Monday, December 7, 2015


CHOO-CHOO TRAIN, A-CHUGGING DOWN THE TRACK. Passengers at the Dau Station in Mabalacat, wait to board a a train to Magalang, via a spur railroad track. ca. early 1920s.

 Pampanga’s historic train stations have been in the news lately, most recently with the announcement that the old Angeles Station along Villanueva St. will be fully restored by 2016 through the generosity of a local benefactor. Much earlier, the heritage-conscious city government of San Fernando rebuilt their very own San Fernando Train Station located at the Brgy. Sto. Niño, with the assistance of the Tourism Insfrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA). Since then, the train station has become a must-see tourism landmark.

 The train stations of Angeles and San Fernando, along with those of Apalit, Sto. Tomas and Mabalacat, were part of the second portion of the Manila railroad line inaugurated on 22-23 February 1892 by Governor-General Eulogio Despujol and Manila Archbishop Bernardo Nozaleda . The province was thus connected to Manila and Bulacan through these “iron horses” that eventually were expanded all the way to Dagupan.

 By the 1920s and 30s, under the American regime, the Manila Railroad Co. had a flourishing transport business that promised safe travels on air-conditioned coaches at low-express charges. Connecting trips to Baguio were arranged through the Benguet Auto Lines at Damortis—for only Php 14.33, one way (1929 rate).

 Both San Fernando and Angeles stations hold special historical significance for Filipinos. San Fernando was where Dr.Jose Rizal debarked on 27 June 1892 for a quick visit of the town; it was where he also boarded a train to continue his trip to Bacolor.

The stations also figured prominently in the infamous Death March of World War II. The railway station in San Fernando was the end point of the march of Filipino and American soldiers. Here, on April 1942, they were loaded on trains that took them to Camp O’Donnel, Tarlac.

 On April 10, the packed trains reached the town of Angeles where patriotic residents were on hand to surreptitiously hand out food, water, sugar, medicines, milk, cigars and other provisions to the hungry and weary soldiers. Brave Angeleños showed their support by keeping pace with the trains up to Dau Station, some 4 kilometers away.

 After the War, the lines of the Manila Railroad Co. were rehabilitated and its major services restored. The trains were modernized, their steam engines replaced by diesel. By the mid 50s, one could enjoy all the cozy comforts and convenience of the railway from its clean berths to delightful meals either in the coach or in the dining car.

 I remember that as late as the 1960s, my father used to save on his car trips by taking the train at the Mabalacat Station near the Clark entrance, to visit my aunt in Manila. He would get off at the final stop in Tutuban, and just take a jeep to Herran, where my aunt resided. Sure, it took longer, but it was more cost-efficient, and definitely more scenic!

 Today, the Mabalacat Station still stands but the dilapidated structure is now home to informal settlers. Hopefully, the local government will find merit in restoring the station, in the same way that San Fernando has successfully rebuilt theirs and declared by the National Historical Institute as an “Important Cultural Property”.

Soon, Angeles, with the help of businessman Reghis Romero II, will have theirs too—complete with a glass-enclosed museum, an operational miniature railway, and a park. By saving these stations, we would also be saving a part of our national railway history

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


FR. SANTIAGO BLANCO, the last Spanish Augustinian priest of Pampanga, as a young priest. He was sent to Pampanga upon his ordination in 1928 and stayed on, long after the Order let go of its parishes. H dies in Bamban in 1993. Courtesy of Monsgr. Gene Reyes. 

No other missionaries had more impact in the creation and development of provinces than the Augustinian frailes that first arrived with Miguel Lopez de Legazpi tour islands in 1565. Just 9 years later, 1575, the Provincia del Santissimo Nombre de Jesus de Filipinas was already in place to manage effectively the affairs of the missionaries in their pastoral turfs.

To their credit, the Augutinians founded 250 parishes—the most by any order, and 22 of these were in Pampanga. Some of these missions include Lubao (1572, founded by Fray Juan Gallegos), Betis (1572, Fray Fernando Pinto), Mexico (1581, with Fr. Bernardino de Quevedo and Fr. Pedro de Abuyoas as the first priests), Guagua (1590, Fray Bernardo de Quevedo), Candaba (1575, Fray Manrique) and Macabebe (1575, Fray Sebastian Molina).

 The product of their missionary zeal resulted in many achievements that contributed to the advancements of Pampanga towns. Great builders all, they designed and constructed some of the most beautiful churches in the country—Betis and its baroque decorations, Mexico and its cimborio, Bacolor—said to be the most beautiful in the province, and Lubao, the biggest of all Pampanga churches. 

From building grand churches, the Augustinians also founded th schools or escuelas—parochial centers of learning—in Bacolor, Betis, Lubao (Estudio Gramatica later Colegio de Lubao, 1596) and Candaba (Estudio Gramatica, 1596). They also became the first mentors of students, as they became more adept at the local language.

 It was the Order that put up the first Augustinian printing press in the country that published pioneering printed materials—from grammar books, dictionaries and novenas. Augustinian friars like Bacolor founder Fray Diego Ochoa, authored the first Arte, Vocabulario y Confesionario en Pampango while Macabebe’s Fray Tallada wrote the first published Kapampangan book--Vida de San Nicolas de Tolentino (1614). 

 Among the Augustinians were erudites like Fray Guillermo Masnou, who made a study and an inventory of the herbal plants in Pampanga. Fray Antonio Llanos was taken by Mount Arayat’s curious shape, its flora and fauna, and the rivers that flowed from its core, inspiring him to study Pampanga’s mythical mountain.

 As a result of their effective evangelical labors, the Augustinians were allowed some autonomy by the Vatican, with little interference from the diocesan bishops in the supervision of the fledgling churches and the administration of the sacraments. Pampanga thus became a showcase of the Augustinians’ missionary work all throughout the Spanish colonial period and beyond.

The parishes of Lubao, Betis, Sasmuan, Porac, Minalin and Sto. Tomas continued to be administered by the Augustinians well into the first half of the 1900s; the last town to go was Floridablanca, whose last Spanish parish priest was Fray Lucino Valles, founder of the St. Augustine Academy in 1951. Other chose to stay here permanently long after their order's duties were over. 

Such was the case of Fr. Santiago Blanco, a true blue Spaniard, fondly called Apung Tiago by his Kapampangan constituents. Ordained in 1928, Fr. Blanco was assigned to various towns in Pampanga, including SantoTomas, Betis and Porac. He was responsible for the repainting of the church interiors of Betis during his 1939-49 term. His next assignment was Porac where he served as parish priest and Spiritual Director from 1950-1959.

When the Augustinians let go of their last remaining parish in Pampanga, Fr. Blanco requested to be left behind. In 1963, his application to become a secular priest was granted by the Holy See. Fr. Blanco moved to the newly created Diocese of Tarlac and became an honorary Monsignor and an Episcopal Vicar.

Fr.Blanco took residence in Bamban until his passing in 1993, his lifeworks in Pampanga a testament to the unflagging Augustinian missionary heart and spirit.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

*391. LOTIS BALUYUT KEY: Her Passionate Artistry, Unlocked.

LOTIS IS THE KEY.Versatile Kapampangan-American artist parlayed her beauty beauty pageant credentials into a successful stage and film career, until she made a life-changing decision to move to the U.S. ca. 1978. 

 The career of Maria Rica Baluyut Key (aka Lotis Melisande Key) speaks volumes about her multi-facetted gifts that has served her well in diverse endeavors—including coping with the complexities of showbiz life. 

Her mother was Luz Nolasco Baluyut, a popular radio personality in the 1930s who went by the nickname “Mitzi”. The Baluyots traced their ancestry to Guagua and the Kapampangan-speaking towns of Bataan. Mitzi’s father was Jose Baluyut, a former governor from Orion, Bataan. Jose’s brother was Sotero Baluyut, Pampanga’s eminent engineer-governor from the 30s. 

Mitzi was first married to Arturo Ortiz, son of the Philippine Secretary of State who tragically died at Fort Santiago during the War. She married a second time, to Warren Bryan Key, a descendant of Francis Scott Key, lyricist of the U.S. anthem "Star Spangled Banner".

Their daughter, born in 1949, would become one of the most talented personalities of Philippine entertainment—Lotis Key. Lotis was raised in Pasay City, and her beautiful Filipina-American features were evident at an early age, which opened doors to modeling and beauty pageantry.

Her first foray was in 1967, when she was selected as Princess Royale de Quezon City. Later in the year, she competed in the 3rd edition of the Bb. Pilipinas Contest to determine the country’s delegate to the Miss Universe Beauty pageant. Just 18 and a student of St. Paul’s, she placed third in the national tilt won by Cebuana Pilar Delilah Pilapil.

 Two years after, Lotis joined the search for “Romeo and Juliet of the Philippines”, a promotion to drum up interest in the 1969 Franco Zefirelli movie. She was named “Juliet” to Victor Laurel’s Romeo. In 1971, she joined “Miss Aviation” and topped the contest too.

 While joining contests and walking fashion show ramps, Lotis was also busy making TV appearances and performing on stage as an actress. With Hilda Coronel, she was cast in “Manigong Bagong Taon” a Channel 5 New Year special, directed by Lino Brocka. On the theater circuit, she was in the play “The Crucible” where she had a daring kissing scene with veteran Vic Silayan. She was a mod nun in “Cisco”, a singing country girl in “Carousel”, and a body-baring lead in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brody” in “Carousel”.

Pretty soon, movie producers were knocking on her doors, convincing her to try the movies. After doing a bit part in the 1971 movie,”Stardoom”, she was noticed in “Ang Mahiwagang Daigdig ni Pedro Penduko” (1973).

But it was in “Dalawang Mukha ng Tagumpay” that she made her mark, earning her a FAMAS Best Supporting Actress nomination in 1974, a feat she also repeated in “ Ibigay Mo Sa Akin Ang Langit” (1975). Lotis had a starring role as a circus performer in the movie, “Lady Luck” (1975).

 Lotis became Dolphy’s favored leading lady, appearing together with the Comedy King in box-office films like Captain Barbell (1973), Fung Ku (1973), Facundo Alitaftaf (1978), Darna, Kuno? (1979), Max En Jess (1979) and Bugoy (1979). Soon, the showbiz world was a-buzz with the Lotis-Dolphy romance.

 In 1986, Lotis made a drastic decision to get away from the tiring drama of Philippine showbiz. She moved to the United States to start life anew. With her well-rounded experience, Lotis found work in theater, radio, corporate shows, TV commercial and industrial video productions as a voice talent.

She not only rediscovered her faith by becoming a Christian evangelist but she also rekindled her passion for the theater. She became a playwright, director and producer, a job that took her across the U.S. and Canada. Lotis next shifted to literary writing, resulting in two published novels, “The Song of the Tree” and “A Thing Devoted”.

 Finally coming to terms with her past, Lotis married Bambi Kabigting, a former Ateneo Blue Eagles and Crispa Redmanizer basketball ace. She and her family are settled in Minnesotta, happily living a simpler, contented life-- away from the public’s prying eyes, and far removed from the glamorous, but often-complicated world of showbiz that once hailed her as a star.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


A LEADING ACTOR TO LEAD THE COUNTRY. Rogelio de la Rosa...but is he qualified? ca. early 1960s.

The Philippine Presidency, it is said, has occupational hazards that could kill. After all, three of our presidents have died at work. Yet, then, as now—the position remains as the ultimate aspiration of all Filipino political leaders, for the immense power that the office brings and glory it represents. The 1961 Presidential Elections put to fore the qualifications of the aspirants—the first, the incumbent president Carlos P. Garcia (Nacionalista), the second—the incumbent vice president Diosdado Macapagal (Liberal), and the third, a movie star-turned-senator, Rogelio de la Rosa, an Independent. 

It was easy to deride Rogelio “Roger” de la Rosa for his being just an ”artista” , viewed in the light of the silver screen as a leading man, which he was, some twenty years ago. The son of Feliciano de la Rosa and Rosario Lim, he was born on 12 November 1916 in Barrio san Jose de Gumi in Lubao, Pampanga. His paternal grandfather , Francisco de la Rosa, was a Spanish surveyor, while his grandmother, Marciana Dariano was an Ilocana from La Union. Everyone knew too, that the 45 year old presidential bet had been at political odds with Diosdado, his own brother-in-law. (Macapagal was married to Purita, Rogelio's sister, who died during the war).

 Dela Rosa’s first and only political experience was when he ran for the Senate of the Liberal Party and won—heavily supported by fan votes. Because of his background, he was looked at as “non-intellectual” (he went to Lubao Institute and finished Liberal Arts from Far Eastern University) . His followers, however, were quick to point out that even Magsaysay was a “non-intellectual”; he, like Dela Rosa has a practical grasp of problems and disdains convoluted, belabored discussions. As for his fans, it could not be denied that they are certainly an articulate and potent force to reckon with--part of the common “masa”. 

Moreover, during the last war, when many politicians were collaborating with the Japanese-sponsored government, Dela Rosa was working as a fighter of the underground army; this he repeated when he volunteered to go to Korea to join hands with the United Nations peacekeeping forces there. As Magsaysay’s labor adviser, Dela Rosa was valued for his troubleshooting skills in resolving agrarian and rural improvement issues.

 As Senator-elect who topped the polls with 2 million votes, Dela Rosa also had an enviable record, sponsoring a law to condemn the illegal appropriation of public streams and rivers by rich fishpond owners. He was known for making on-the-spot visits to the backwoods to as a way of showing deep concern for the common tao’s problems. It is interesting to note that Dela Rosa’s campaign seal shows a salakot with a pair of bakya (wooden shoes) , underlining his pro-masa approach.

 To this day, many believe that Dela Rosa could have been an apt leader for the country in 1961 with his social and political thinking that tends towards egalitarianism. If he had not given way to Macapagal, he could have, they say, ended the heavy-handed domination of politicians, by his institution of a regime that was truly mass-based, ethical, competent and honest. Then he would have also been irrefutably—the world’s most handsome President!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

*389. Training To Be Red: STALIN UNIVERSITY

RED ALERT. Barrio Sinipit in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija, lies under the shadow of Mount Arayat. The strategically-located barrio was the site of an informal training school for Red cadres known as Stalin University. ca. 1959.

 Communism was a new ideology that was embraced early by the peasantry in their fight against tenant oppression. But one did not just turn red in an instant, he had to be indoctrinated in the ways of the new movement—from its fundamental beliefs and principles to its concept of resistance and armed uprising. The training school for such purpose was set up in a place aptly named Barrio Sinipit, in Cabiao Nueva Ecjia—which, in Kapampangan means “ hemmed-in, suppressed, repressed”. The school was called Stalin University—named after the Moscow-based institution founded by Communist International on 21 April 1921.

 This Kapampangan-speaking barrio, portions of which lie in the Candaba Swamp, was the perfect place for such a training school—Barrio Sinipit had always been hard-pressed from all directions, regularly raided by marauders, it houses burned and women raped. The barrio’s position and background made Sinipit the choice site for secret meetings by members and leaders of the so-called “Pambansang Kaisahang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas” (National Organization of Peasants in the Philippines).

 It was in 1936 that the PKMP established a training school for future leaders of this movement that was founded for the cause of oppressed peasants. In later years, these products of Stalin University would identify themselves as Huk guerrillas who shifted their fight from enemy invaders during the War, to abusive landlords and hacenderos. Many would also take on leading roles in the Communist Party of the Philippines and identify themselves as guerrillas of the Huk movement.

Stalin University was not a permanent building; its site was moveable and changeable—it could be under the canopy of a huge tree one day, and a ramshackle hut the next. This was so, because the instructors were the subject of manhunt by government intelligent officers. They were culled from the outside, who had knowledge of the conditions and feelings of Sinipit peasants.

 One tenant-farmer recall that “they were glib-tongue, very convincing, and they spoke of brighter things for us”. They would come with mimeographed notes and pamphlets in different languages. And they would talk of holding reprisals against abusive landlords. The Philippine Government knew of this Stalin University and it would send soldiers to swoop down on the clandestine school. But the class would always be a step ahead, moving to secret refuges in Bulacan or towards hideaways in Arayat or the swamps of Candaba.

 The Magsaysay Era ushered in a new purposeful period—to restore common people’s confidence in the government. Magsaysay sparked the revival of nationalism, and promised rural reforms. He addressed not only the issue of dissidence in the back country but also the disaffection of peasants because of grievances that remained unredressed. He established the President’s Complaint and Action Committee to look into such matters, such as the festering problem of share-cropping. Huk Chief Luis Taruc even sent a feeler to Commissioner Manahan when he heard Magsaysay’s speech about rural reforms and was curious to learn more. In time, Taruc admitted that Magsaysay’s barrio program had made the Huk struggle aimless.

 Thus, Stalin University was abandoned as the Huks took their movement to the hills, leaving Barrio Sinipit in peace once more. By 1959, the barrio was back on its feet, a thriving community blessed with rich soil and hardworking people. No many remember that not so long ago, beneath the shadow of Mount Arayat, there was a Nueva Ecija barrio where once Red cadres trained, in a school without a campus, known by the name Stalin University.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

*388. Our Lady of the Opera: FIDES CUYUGAN ASENSIO

KAPAMPANGAN DIVINE DIVA. Fides Cuyugan Asensio, the leading voice of Philippine Opera, traces her roots to the capital city of San Fernando, from where her father, Dr. Gervacio Santos-Cuyugan hails from.

In the field of musical opera, one Kapampangan who has done most for its appreciation and advancement is the acclaimed diva from San Fernando, Fides Cuyugan-Asensio (b. 1 August 1931). Asencio is considered as an institution in Philippine Opera for the last 5 decades, ranking as one of the most versatile performers in the country.

 Asencio was born to Dr. Gervacio Santos-Cuyugan of San Juan, San Fernando and Jacinta Belza. She took her elementary education at Philippine Women’s University in 1938, where she revealed her love for singing. When it was time to go to college, she stayed on at the Philippine Women’s University which had a good curriculum in Music.

With a diploma tucked under her belt, Fides applied and was accepted at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia U.S.A. in 1947—the first Filipina to be admitted to the prestigious music school—where she earned an Artist’s Diploma in Voice.

 When she returned to the Philippines, she took time to get married to Manuel “Jimmy” Asensio Jr. in 1954 with whom she had two children, Dennis (a doctor) and Manuel III. Then, she plunged headlong into musical opera, which had long had the reputation as an entertainment form reserved for the elite. Her rich, coloratura soprano voice was fitted to great classical roles, like Adele in “Die Fledermaus”and Lucia in “Lucia di Lammermoor”.

But in addition to that, Fides took on roles in Philippine-created operas that were adapted from historical works. Critics raved when she played the crazed woman “Sisa” in the opera, “Noli Me Tangere” based on Rizal’s opus. She left an indelible impression as Dña. Luisa vda. De Bustamante in “La Loba Negra” and Juana la Loca in the ethno-opera, “Lapu-Lapu”.

 To expand the portfolio of local operatic materials, Asencio, who was also a talented librettist-lyricist, took Nick Joaquin’s popular “May Day Eve”and transformed it into the opera “Mayo-Bisperas ng Liwanag”. One other noteworthy work was “Larawan at Kababaihan, Maskara ng Mukha”.

 She took her advocacy to television, by appearing in the well-received “Sunday Sweet Sunday (aired from 1969-74) where she sang arias, musical theater pieces and opera excerpts, together with husband Jimmy, himself, a known opera perfomer. As if TV and stage were not enough, she also appeared in such acclaimed movies as “Oro, Plata, Mata” (1982), directed by Peque Gallaga, "Aparisyon”(2012) and more recently, “Mana”(2014).

 Her great efforts and achievements were not lost on leading award-giving bodies of the Philippines. These singular distinctions include: 1989 Best of the Philippine Profile of Achievement as Performing Artist; 1990 and 1993 Asia Opera Award, and 1999 Aliw Awards Foundation’s Gawad Siglo ng Aliw Honorees. In 2005, she was the National People’s Choice for “Grand Achievement in Theater Arts”. She was honored by her proud city by naming her as one of the Outstanding Fernandinos in the field of Arts. This was capped by a Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed by Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on 7 July 2005.

 Fides Cuyugan Asensio has not rested on her laurels and continues to be a leading voice in local opera. After founding The Music Theater Foundation of the Philippines in 1986, she moved on to music education and is currently a Professior Emeritus of the U.P. Voice and Music, Theater/Dance Dept. and the Fides Cuyugan Asensio Institute of Music and Arts. Her rich, crystalline voice can be heard on the seminal CD of Kapampangan songs, “Pamalsinta Keng Milabas”, singing the classic favorite “Atin Cu Pung Singsing”, a tribute to her roots that she has not forgotten even after years of performing on the world stage.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


AT EASE! Members of the 7th Co. San Fernando Training Center, Philippine Army. ca. 1920s.

 In my high school and college years, the subjects that I hated most were our compulsory Philippine Military Training (PMT) and ROTC (Reserved Officer’s Training Corps), conducted every weekend. I really wanted no part of this exercise as I knew the abusive power of the Marcos military, having grown up as a teen during the Martial law years. For a year or so, I took part in those endless drills, where, dressed in our drab olive green uniform and heavy boots, we marched aimlessly with fake guns on our shoulder, through sun and rain, at the Burnham grounds.

 Today, of course, I have a kinder view of the military after becoming witness to the events in our history—from their role in toppling the dictatorship, to their sacrifices on the combat fields as exemplified by the last stand of the valiant SF 44 at the Mamasapano encounter.

 Our Philippine military history is replete with Kapampangan bravehearts who have contributed much to the country’s defense. Recognized early as among the country’s best soldiers are the 100 Macabebe Scouts recruited by the United States Army and organized in September 1899 as pioneer members of the Philippine Scouts. Slammed by many for their duplicitous nature—Macabebe foot soldiers helped capture Aguinaldo for the Americans—they are, on the other hand, praised for their professional soldiering.

 In more contemporary times, the list of illustrious Kapampangans in uniform have come to include the following: Brig. General Basilio Valdes (Floridablanca), Chief of Staff of the Philippine Army and 1934 Chief of the Philippine Constabulary; Gen. Victor H. Dizon (Porac), Chief of Staff the Philippine Armed Forces; and Maj. Porfirio Zablan, the first fighter pilot of the Philippines, who perished while training in the U.S. in June 1935. In his memory, the Zablan Airfield in Quezon City was named after him.

 The hallowed halls of Pampanga High School have given us some of the most notable names in military service: Brig. Gen. Marcos G. Soliman (1929, Candaba), a classmate of Pres. Diosdado Macapagal who became the Director of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency; Col. Emigdio C. Cruz (Arayat), Pres. Manuel L. Quezon’s chief physician and trusted aide during the War years; Lt. Col. Leon Flores Punsalan (1928, San Simon) ,a West Pointer and M.I.T. graduate who saw action with the Philippine Army; Cols. Sergio Sanchez, Gregorio Gamboa (1926), Pacifico Martin (1929), Federico W. Calma ( 1931), Diosdado Garcia (1933); Majors Conrado Flores (1931), Flor Henson (1935), Rufino Dizon (1938); Captain Cresenciano Pineda (1937) and Brig. Gen. Ramsey Ocampo (1963, Candaba), chief of CIS and NARCOM. 

Meanwhile, the Philippine Military Academy—the country’s premier military school founded in 1936 by virtue of the National Defense Act, have produced many Kapampangan top graduates. Of late, the batch of 1998 included class topnotcher Cadet Ephraim Suyom (Apalit) and 4th ranked George de la Cruz (Mabalacat). Also in the list of high-ranking Kapampangans in military service: Gen. Rafael Mañago (Mexico), who served in several regions as military commander; Gen. Luis Villareal, Director of NICA during Cory Aquino’s term; and Avelino Razon Jr., 2007 Philippine National Police Chief.

 Several Kapampangan military men have also served in Clark after the American turnover : Gen Romeo Soliman David (San Fernando) , president of Clark Development Corporation (CDC) and Clark International Airport from 1995-98 ; Gen. Mariano Punzalang, First Military Liaison of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA); and Col. Rodolfo Abad Santos, Chief of Security.

 Those who held non-military positions included Col. Juan Arroyo who became the Manager of the National Steel Corp. and Gen. Virgilio Mañago David (Bacolor), Administrator of the Philippine Coconut Authority from 1992-98.

 The Kapampangan soldier has done it all---he has seen action in the world’s greatest wars, fought against the best armies, and participated in all the major events that determined our nation’s destiny. His dauntless courage harkens back to that oft-quoted boast from olden times—“nung keng leon at keng tigri, eku tatakut, keka pa?”. Today, this trademark courage has been transformed into pride of service in the military branch of the government. When duty calls, expect our own Kapampangan soldier to be there at the forefront—standing tall and smart in his uniform, ready to rally and defend the flag.

 Sources: The Pampangans,

Friday, August 7, 2015

*386. Bale-Matua: THE ARRASTIA HOUSE, Lubao

TO A MANOR BORN. Home of Pampanga sugar planter of Don Valentin Arrastia, Luba, Pampanga. 1925.

 In Lubao, in front of the municipal hall, once stood the palatial house of one of the town’s most affluent Spanish-Filipino family—the Arrastias. The patriarch, Valentin Roncal Arrastia, was a Basque who had come all the way from Allo, Navarra, Spain, to find his fortune in colonial Philippines. He, not only found the wealth he was seeking, but also a Kapampangan wife—Francisca Serrano Salgado of Lubao.

 The couple’s consolidated wealth included their vast hacienda planted with sugar and rice, as well as flourishing fish ponds. Befitting their stature, the Arrastias built a magnificent residence sometime the first two decades of the 1900s, where they raised their 9 children: Carmen (Mameng), Jose (Pepe, father of Ambassador Mercedes Tuason, and Ruby aka Neile Adams, wife of actor Steve McQueen), Justo (founder of Lubao Institute), Benito (died at 19), Crispula (died in infancy), Juanita (Miss Pampanga 1926), Esteban (Teban, father of actress Letty Alonso, married to actor Mario Montenegro), Francisco (died at 12), Enrique (died during the liberation of Manila) and Sebastian (Bastian, whose daughter, Sylvia is married to former senator and radio personality, Eddie Ilarde).

 The Arrastia House, designed by the patriarch no less, was typical of the architecture of the period—a transitional style featuring elements of the ‘bahay na bato” and modern American influences. The ground floor--which includes the receiving room, is made of concrete, its windows protected with wrought-iron grills. The lower floor could be accessed from upstairs through a secret passage that led to one of the storage rooms. The second storey features high frosted glass-paned windows and a wrap-around eave to shade the residents from the harsh Pampanga sun.

Ventanillas protected by ornamental grills had sliding windows to let air in and an enclosed balconaje (balcony) decorated with fretwork could be found on the upper landing. The roof itself, is made from thick American G.I. sheets. The house was fenced with simple metal grills and surrounded with bushes, shrubs and other greeneries. Accenting the garden is stately water fountain, ornamented with classical statues, while a pool is located at the back.

Lavish parties were regularly hosted by Don Valentin for his friends—mostly rich hacenderos and fellow-sugar planters. One such talk-of-the-town affair was the luncheon thrown by the Arrastias in honor of Mr. R. Renton Hind, a high-ranking American official of the country’s sugar industry. The guest list included Pampanga’s well-known sugar barons, mostly from the Del Carmen district which Mr. Hind used to manage: Dons Carlos Layug, Francisco Reinares, Martin Gonzalez, Alfredo Infante, Braulio Mendiola, Carlos Gil, Joaquin Varela, Quiterio Araneta and Leonard Moore.After felicitations were exchanged, the guest of honor was presented with a handsome desk set, and a case containing a solid gold pen and pencil.

 When Valentin and Francisca passed away, the house was bequeathed to the Arrastia children. Daughter Juanita felt most passionate about the house and the memories it held, so her husband, the famed doctor Wenceslao Beltran Vitug, bought out the shares of her siblings; in this way, the ancestral house was passed on to the Vitugs. Seven children were born to Juanita and Apung Beses, and they too, spent their growing up years in the house.

As such, the house teemed with househelps, mostly wives, sons and daughters of sharecroppers who worked on the Arrastia farmlands. A Japanese driver was also employed. When World War II broke out and Japanese forces overrun Pampanga, their officials took over the house and used it as their garrison. Thanks to their Japanese driver who couched for the Vitugs’character, the grand Arrastia mansion was spared from the ravages of war.

Also associated with the Arrastia house and its residents was the late president Diosdado P. Macapagal. It was said that the poor but bright Lubeño boy would pass by the house everyday. Catching the attention of the Arrastias, they would eventually learn of his plight and decided to help him with his school needs. Macapagal graduated valedictorian of his elementary class and finished his high school on 1929 with flying colors. He would eventually take up Law, enter politics and become president-elect in 1963. 

 A succession of Vitug descendants acted as caretakers of the house after the death of Apung Beses (+1986) and Juanita (+1994). The family finally decided to sell their ancestral home in 2007 to Architect Jose L. Acuzar. It was dismantled, transported and reconstructed in Bagac, Bataan as a heritage house of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

*385. The Fiery Pen of Flauxgalier: FELIX N. GALURA

POETRY MAN. The newly-put up monument of Felix Galura y Napao, prominent literary figure from Bacolor, who rebelled against Spanish. literary styles and forms. ca. 1920s.

 One of the most prominent and versatile writers at the turn of 20th century Pampanga was the Bacolor native, Felix Galura y Napao. The multi-facetted literary giant did not only wield his pen as a poet, translator ( he translated Rizal’s “Noli” into Kapampangan ), playwright ( “Ing Mora”/The Moor Maiden), editor, religious writer (he composed original Kapampangan prayers and a Pasyon), grammarian (he authored “Gramatica Castellana” and “Sanayan A Malagwang Pipagaralan King Amanung Kastila”) and newspaper man, but he was also a passionate Revolutionist, a military man ( Lt. Colonel under Gen. Tomas Mascardo) and a political leader (Bacolor’s municipal presidente for 9 years).

 Born on 21 Feb. 1866 to Manuel Galura and Carlota Napao, the young Felix was educated in local schools, but circumstances did not allow him to get a college education. But even so, he was a quick learner, with the uncanny ability to absorb knowledge so easily. His close association with the brilliant lawyer, Don Roman Valdes, for example, enabled him to become an expert on law and jurisprudence.

 But writing was Galura’s first love. He assumed the pseudonym “Flauxgalier” (an acronym of his name), and became a regular contributor to the bi-lingual newspaper “E Mangabiran/ El Imparcial” which began publication in 1905. Exposed to Spanish works at an early age, he set about translating prayers, plays and literary pieces into Kapampangan. Galura turned Spanish plays into Kapampangan adaptations like “O, Kasiran” and “Azucena”.

 With Juan Crisostomo Sotto, he wrote the zarzuela “Ing Singsing A Bacal” (The Ring of Steel) which was based on a Spanish play. Galura was led to conclude that the Spanish literary forms available in the country were the main cause of the backwardness of Filipinos. After all, these “comedias” were full of incredible tales of magic, enchantment and nonsensical scenes.

 His response was the opus ”Ing Cabiguan”(The Misfortune”), a verse narrative published in 1915, which would become his best-known work. It recounts the ill-fated love of Jaime and Momay, whose planned elopement was thwarted by Rosa, Momay’s mother. This resulted in the imprisonment of Jaime for 8 months. Hoping to reunite with Momay after his release, he finds out that she had died while he was languishing in jail.

 Though his work had a romantic plot, “Ing Cabiguan” was full of jabs against Spanish works. The work was prefaced with a reader’s warning to not expect improbable scenarios (like a duel between a princess vs. a lion) and unrealistic characters (e.g. talking animals) that are staples in Spanish-inspired comedias and curirus. It was Galura’s direct exhortation to readers to break away from these whimsical writing tradition that are insulting to one’s senses, and instead, embrace more realistic forms.

 The first printing of ”Ing Cabiguan” totalling to 500 copies was quickly sold out, and a second edition of 1,000 more had to be rushed on 10 November 2015 to accommodate the demand. Apparently, Galura’s work still had the cloying romanticism that was also the characteristic of the curiru, the same literary forms that he had wanted to replace.

 Certainly, though, it paved the way for Juan Crisostomo Soto to depart fully and truly from the favored Spanish-influenced style. His masterpiece “Lidia”, proved to be very contemporary in every respect, from the use of prose to the modern plot, providing a clear distinction from the metrical romances of old.

 Even as he was writing, Galura continued to run the affairs of Bacolor as the town head from 1909 to 1918. A year after his term, he was hospitalized for pneumonia, an illness from which he would no recover. He passed away on 21 July 1919, at age 53. For his departed friend, the poet Don Monico R. Mercado wrote the elegy ”Ing Bie Na Ning Tau” The Life of a Man) .

 On 24 December 1924, a monument was put up in front of the Bacolor Elementary School by Aguman 33, a band of grateful citizens and friends, dedicated to the memory of a beloved son of Bacolor--“Caluguran Nang Anac Ning Baculud”—Felix Napao Galura.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

*384. A Story Interrupted: AGNES DE GUZMAN, Writer

IN HER OWN WRITE. Agnes De Guzman of Mabalacat, as a Commerce graduate of UST. She pursued a creative a career and became a successful TV ans film screen and story writer, actress, champion of Kapampangan films.

 There was never a quiet moment when you were with Agnes De Guzman—my sister Susan’s best friend since high school. It was easy to be taken by this vivacious girl, who always had a ready story to tell—the latest town gossip, school anecdotes, her opinionated movie reviews and political commentaries. We lived in the same barangay, shared rides as students in Angeles, and our mothers were acquaintances, so Agnes was always a welcome presence in our house.

 I didn’t know Agnes had ambitions of becoming a writer, until I got a call from her one day. It started as a usual “kumustahan”call—she was already working at PLDT in Manila, fresh from earning a College degree from the U.S.T. I, in the meanwhile, had been working for years in Makati and had become an advertising creative director writing advertising copy and dabbling in comedy writing on the side. She wanted me to know that she was planning a career shift; she had been taking writing classes under Nestor Torre and Ricky Lo, and she felt she was ready to take a plunge into the world of show business as a writer.

I remember telling her to follow her heart, while cautioning her on how fickle the industry can be for creative people---unlike a corporate job that guarantees a steady flow of income. Agnes, however, told me she had saved enough from her PLDT years, enough to allow her to make this “experimental detour” in her career. So, pushing 40, Agnes gave up her telecom job to pursue her other dream of becoming a writer for films.

 And did she chase that dream with a passion! Next time I heard from her, she told me to watch out for the film thriller “Ika-13 Kapitulo” starring Christopher De Leon and Zsa-Zsa Padilla, where she was credited for the screenplay. The comedy “Mana-Mana, Tiba-Tiba” (2000) was next, and this time, it was she who wrote the story. Agnes was definitely on her way,gaining writing experience and at the same time making important connections with showbiz stalwarts as Marichu Vera-Perez, director Adolf Alix Jr., Gina Tagasa, among others.

 Channel 2 took her in and her storytelling skills were honed by the many TV shows, movies and screenplays she wrote: “Baliktaran: Si Ace at Si Daisy”, “Mga Kwento Ni Lola Basyang”, “Angels”(2007). She also earned credits as an actress, making appearances in films like “”Imoral”, “Saan Nagtatago Ang Happiness”(2006) and “Nars” (2007). In 2008, she joined Cinemalaya film competition and her original story with a Kapampangan theme, Ätin Cu Pung Parul”, made it to the semi-finals.

The next year, she wrote the movie, “A Journey Home”. In 2010, her output included the movie “Presa” (for which she won a 34th Gawad Urian nomination) and the TV series “Inday Wanda” that ran through 2011. Her most successful assignment as head writer was for the intriguing, “Nasaan Ka, Elisa?”, which was slated to have 90 episodes to run from 2011 and 2010.

She had also started work on another series, “Hiyas”, also on Channel 2 when fate intervened: she was stricken with an illness that turned out to be cancer. The feisty Agnes carried on with her work even with her condition; she shunned traditional medicine in favor of alternative healing.

In August 2011, she decided to tick off an item on her bucket list—to go on a Parisian adventure. Her friends, ignorant of her condition—including me, followed her journey through her regular postings on facebook---today she’s at the Eiffel Tower, the next she’s at the Louvre. Her photos showed her zest and animated spirit—smiling, enjoying, relishing every minute of her amazing journey, highlighted by a visit to the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes.

 Less than three months after her return to the Philippines, Agnes took leave of this mortal world. She lies in a private cemetery in her beloved Mabalacat, with simple slab of stone to mark her grave. The gravestone bears both her name and her title that she was so proud to wear: Agnes P. De Guzman, Writer. (January 6, 1962- November 6, 2011).

 Cinekabalen, Pampanga’s leading film festival organization, honored her along with film critic Alexis Tioseco (+) in 2015, for her legacy of writing that found full expression on TV and the Silver Screen, assuring Agnes De Guzman, Kapampangan storyteller, of immortality.

 (4 June 2015)

Thursday, June 18, 2015


LA DOLCE MINDA. Minda Feliciano had a reputation for living the life fantastic--traipsing the world and hobnobbing with the rich, the famous and the powerful--befitting her celebrity status. Photo from 1968.

Certainly, for many society girls in the heady 60s, Minda Feliciano’s life was an enviable one. At a young age, she travelled the world in search of adventure, and in so doing, found many of her dreams fulfilled---to get an acting break on a hit U.S. TV series, to rub elbows with the rich, the royalty and the famous, and best of all, to find the greatest loves of her life in two continents!

But in a special way, Minda was destined for this kind of life, early on. She was the daughter of Manuel Valdez Feliciano, a district engineer, and Amparo Santana of Batanes. Born as Arminda Feliciano on June 1, 1931, her town of origin is sometimes listed as either Angeles or Guagua. That may be due to the peripatetic career of her father, who was assigned in different provinces like Bataan, Nueva Ecija and Surigao.

But what was sure was that Minda went to high school at the Holy Angel Academy (now University) in Angeles. In her 20s, the charming Minda went on to try her luck at modeling and acting. This paved the way for her to travel the world to search for better career opportunities.

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. In 1962, her partnership with Russ Hemenway resulted in the birth of her only child, Brent, but they would split shortly.

Minda never ran out of admirers though, and one who squired her ardently was the prominent publisher and author, Leo Guild, 20 years her senior. It was with Guild that she eventually chose to settle down in 1967. The glamorous Minda held court at her posh Beverly Hills residence, which was even outfitted with a heated swimming pool. However, the marriage ended in a divorce in 1970.

Minda went back to her socializing and hobnobbing with fellow celebrities that led to her meeting with British actor Michael Caine. Caine would become her one great love. He had already starred in a few well-received movies ("Alfie", "Gambit") when Minda swept him off his feet. She became her travelling companion when he filmed on locations worldwide. The two were soon engaged, but somehow, things didn’t fall into place and the couple parted ways. Michael would marry the exotic beauty, Shakira Baksh in 1973 , win 2 Oscars and be knighted in 2002.

 Briefly in the early 1990s, Minda was linked to debonair crooner, Tony Bennett, who made a hit out of the song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”. She would fly and join him in his intermational concerts that took him from Las Vegas to Tokyo and London. But at that time, Bennett was more focused on resurrecting his career so Minda quietly slipped out of his life.

A few years later, Minda would form a more lasting relationship with Norman John McClintock Lonsdale, a true English blue blood descended from the Duke of Wellington, the nemesis of Bonaparte at the famous Battle of Waterloo. He had been a favorite escort of Princess Margaret. Lonsdale eschewed the life of a royal and pursued a successful TV career. He was already a widower with 3 children when Minda came into his life. Romance bloomed and they were wed in 1997.

In the Lonsdales’ sprawling Oxfordshire estate,the couple entertained film star friends like Joan Collins, Peter Sellers, Britt Ekland and Roger Moore. Minda and Norman would be together for 12 happy years; he would die in 2009, of cancer. All throughout his illness, Minda stood by to nurse and care for his man, until the end.

Today, Minda has made United Kingdom her home, spending her time tending to the lush rose gardens of her ivy-covered house along the scenic Thames River. Her high-flying days have given way to a quieter, more sedate life, but Minda Feliciano’s joie de vivre has not waned a bit. And that’s so…Kapampangan!

Sunday, June 7, 2015


THE RACE IS ON! An inter-scholastic meet hosted by the Pampanga High School features running sprints participated in  by would-be Olympic tracksters from different Central Luzon schools. ca. mid 1920s. Personal Collection.

 The 28th Southeast Asian Games currently going on in Singapore recalls to mind the great feats of many Kapampangans who helped carry the Philippine colors on the world sports arena. Ever since a Negrito named Basilio won the pole-climbing event at the 1904 Anthropology Days Competition—an athletic competition affiliated with the 1904 Summer Olympic Games held in St. Louis, there has been no stopping the Kapampangans’ quest for  victory in the world’s premiere sports competition.

 The country’s official participation in the modern day Olympics began in 1924, when the Philippines sent a token representative, track athlete David Nepomuceno. It was only in 1928 that the country made its presence felt  when Ilocano Teofilo Yldefonso, medalled in breast stroke swimming. 

The first known Kapampangan to participate in the Olympics was Fortunato Yambao (b.16 Oct. 1912/d.23 Jun. 1970), of Sta. Lucia, Masantol, a member of the Philippine basketball team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Adolph Hitler had used this event to prove the superiority of the Aryan race, only to be silenced by stunning victories of black American track star, Jesse Owens. Asia too, had reason to celebrate, for that year, Yambao and his squad lifted the Philippines to 5th place, the highest placement ever achieved by our national basketball team, with a record of 4 wins, 1 loss—against the Americans.

 At the 1960 Rome Olympics, two Kapampangan basketeers were part of the national team: Carlos Velasco Badion of Lubao and Edgardo Luciano Ocampo of Magalang. Carlos or “Charlie” Badion (b. 16 Aug. 1935 /d. 20 Jun. 2002) had actually represented the country at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, with the team finishing strong in 7th place. His teammates included the basketball legend Caloy Loyzaga and Kurt Bachman.

Badion also grabbed Gold at the 1958 Asian Games and took part in the 1959 FIBA World Cup, where the Philippines finished 8th. In his heyday, he originated the so-called “bicycle drive”and “jack-knife lay-up” , basketball moves that young athletes emulated. Badion was named “Mr. Basketball”, appeared in a movie and was crowned as the Most Valuable Player by the Asian Basketball Conference (ABC).

 Equally illustrious was the basketball career of Edgardo “Ed” Ocampo (b. 5 Oct. 1938)/d. 1999), who represented the Philippines in a record 3 Olympics—1960 (Rome), 1968 (Mexico) and 1972 (Munich). The versatile Ocampo was originally a member of the Philippine football team when basketball beckoned. Ocampo was hailed as Asia’s Best Guard, and, like Badion, was voted as “Mr. Basketball” by the Philippine Sports Association.

In 1968, the Philippines sent a token delegation to the gymnastic events of the Mexico Olympics, and one of the 2 gymnasts was Kapampangan Norman Henson, who was our bet in the floor exercise; he had won an international medal for that discipline. While Henson was doing his somersaults, a kabalen, Adolfo Feliciano, was pitting his skills at the shooting range for the last time. The ace sports shooter had previously competed at the 1960 and 1964 Olympics and had medalled at the Asian Games.

Four years later, at the 1972 Munich Olympics, 2 Kapampangans gunned for glory in the same sports: presidential son Arturo Macapagal and Holy Angel student Melchor Yap who joined the skeet-shooting match. Yap and Macapagal did not advance to the finals, but it was enough that they joined the ranks of the world's best deadshots.

On the distaff side, the first Winter Olympics was held in 1924, in Chamonix, France. At two editions---Nagano (1994) and Lillehammer (1998), a skater with Kapampangan blood represented the United States in Ice Dancing. Elizabeth Punsalan (b. 9 Jan. 1971) was the daughter of Dr. Ernesto Punsalan of Lubao and who had come to America as a medical student. Together with partner, Jerrod Swallow, Punsalan qualified for the 1994 Winter Olympics after placing first at the U.S. Nationals. Two weeks before she was set to go to Nagano, her mentally-troubled brother, Ricardo, stabbed their father dead. This affected her performance, and the couple placed 15th overall. Punsalan bounced back in the next Olympics, finishing in a creditable 7th place.

 Another Kapampangan athlete who made it to the Olympics as part of Team America was the badminton ace, Erika Von Heiland (b. 24 Dec. 1965). Born in Angeles City, Erika’s father was Theodore Pamintuan Von Heiland, the son of Paz Sandico Pamintuan with second husband Frank Von Heiland. Her great grandfather was Don Florentino Torres Pamintuan, an affluent citizen of the town and builder of the still-extant Pamintuan mansion. At age 27, Erika qualified in two Olympics in Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996), playing in both singles and the doubles events.

 In the next Olympics in Sydney (2000), another Angeleño marched proud as our country’s bet in the sports of taekwondo. Welterweight Donald Geisler (b. 6 Oct. 1978), of German-American-Filipino descent, had previously won a silver medal at the 1996 Asian Games; he was just 18. After the Olympiad, Geisler continued his winning streak, garnering medals at the regional Southeast Asian Games—a Silver in 2001, and a Gold in 2003. This paved the way for his return to the 2004 Athens Olympics where he reached the quarterfinals. The next year, he struck gold again at the 2005 SEA Games.

 As sportsmen, these select Kapampangan Olympians have lived their ultimate dream of competing for medals against the best athletes of the world. But in their quest for medals, they have come to learn that it not just the winning that matters, but in finding out the best within themselves, a rewarding experience that feels every bit golden.

(7 June 2015)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


My parents’ little wedding cake was baked and decorated by an unknown bakeshop, but it was pretty enough to be featured in a cooking section of a 1949 magazine. Our love affair with sweet treats spans everything from local kakanins to European and American-style cakes and pastries, that Kapampangan bakers have also come to master. 

 When my father and mother got married in 1949, their reception featured a nicely baked and decorated wedding cake. It was all white and trimmed with sprays of sugared flowers, topped with toy figures of the bride and groom. Though just a modest-size cake, it looked so exquisite, worthy enough to be featured in a lifestyle section of a newspaper. My mother clipped that article and pasted it on her wedding album, alongside their cake-eating photos. We had that album for years, until it fell into tatters—including the magazine clipping.

Thank God, I still have the cake photos to remember that “sweetest”day of my parents’ lives. Kapampangans have always had a taste for sweets—thanks to our robust sugar industry. From our clay ovens and open hearths, our lolos and lolas cooked “kakanins’ that were all-sugar based—kalame, tibuk-tibuk, mochi, pastillas, bibingka. Later,”hurnos”or ovens of clay or bricks were introduced, that enabled Filipinos to do some baking—pan de sals, panecitos, araro (arrowroot) cookies, saniculas.

 During the American Period, especially in the 20s and 30s, well-off Kapampangan families sent their daughters abroad to learn new skills in fashion,couture, and of course, culinary arts. The era also introduced her to new contraptions for the kitchen—the modern oven—which further helped her to create an assortment of confection: soft mamons, fluffy ensaimadas, and cakes of all kinds, following American and European recipes. With their baking wizardry, many of these women even became entrepreneurial.

 One such grand dame was widow Salud Dayrit Santos (b. 7 Feb. 1883/d.1970), who became an expert in whipping up international dishes under the tutelage of Paris-educated Rosario Hizon-Ocampo. But “”Imang Salud” took most pride in her pastries made to perfection: Petit Fours, Empanaditas, Nougatine, Mazapan de Pili.

 But it was her ‘’ensaimadas’’ that were to die for. She baked them with care, slathered with Brun butter, and dusted with grated queso de bola. Her rich-tasting creations were soon snapped up by friends and neighbors. Today, Imang Salud’s granddaughter, Meliza Santos, is carrying on the tradition, baking ensaymadas using her apu’s heirloom recipe. Branded with her name, Imang Salud Ensaimadas are today, sold in select places like the Legazpi Weekend Market.

 Ocampo-Lansang Delicacies in Sta. Rita, is another homegrown business—modest by standards—but very popular in the Kapampangan region, all because of its two products—turrones de casuy and sans rival. It was started in 1920 by Felisa Lansang, who learn to make the sweet treat from a recipe learned from Spanish Dominican nuns.

 At least two Hizons are credited for building successful business based on their baking know-how. The Hizon’s Cakes & Pastries on Bocobo Street in Ermita, Manila was founded by Inocencia Hizon, a widowed single mother who worked as a department store clerk at Aguinaldo’s, Escolta.

 Family lore has it that the now-famous ensaymada recipe was given to her by an anonymous woman. Inocencia baked dozens of ensaymadas using the recipe, and engaged the help of her sister to peddle the pastries in offices, which, to her surprise, were all sold-out. This encouraged her to put up a bakeshop which she named simply as “Hizon’s”, on Raon St.

 Today, Hizon’s has branches in Pasay, Greenhills and Makati, run by daughter Milagros Ramos Roasa. The shop is also famous for its taisans, apple pies and ube cakes, but the ensaymada remains a sentimental favorite.

 Amalia Hizon of Mexico, together with husband Renato Mercado, put up a little cake shop called Red Ribbon that drew praises for its cakes and pastries. They put up the first shop in 1978 along Timog Ave. in Quezon City. In a matter of years, the cake shop gained a substantial following, and in 1984, it opened a U.S. outlet. It was no wonder then that Jollibee Food Corp. acquired the business in 2005. 

Another name to reckon with in the field of baking and pastry arts is Emelita Basilio Wong-Galang. The exigencies of an early marriage prompted her to study cooking, taking lessons from her mother-in-law and heeding the kitchen wisdom of her Chinese-born father, Jose Wong (Ho Keng Gip), who worked as a cook in Pampanga hotels and restaurants--including Orchid's canteen-- before setting up his much-patronized Royal Bakery in Angeles City.

 In 1980, Galang put up the first culinary school in Northern Luzon—the Emelita W. Galang Culinary Arts Studio Inc., which today, offers such courses as cake decorating, chocolate artistry and other confectionary arts.

Of course, Kapampangan cookery is also part of her school’s curriculum. Whether you are craving for a puto or petit fours, mochi or meringue, sanikulas or sans rival, pan de sal or pound cake-- the versatile Kapampangan woman of the house can make them all, to your heart’s delight. With her deep and extensive kitchen background…even baking is a piece of cake!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


MERYENDA TAMU. A short stop at Apung Gari Bakery promises to be a "filling" experience, what with its array of breads, pies and shirt order dishes like pancit luglug, arroz caldo and Magnolia ice cream, all at affordable prices. ca. 1955.

San Fernando’s favorite bakeshop at the Assumpta Building, along the busy Abad Santos St., barrio St. Rosario, was put up by an enterprising couple, Jesusa “Susing” Quiambao and husband Jose “Pitong” Valencia, in 1955. The two named it after Susing’s mother, Margarita Quiambao. “Apung Gari”, who had a reputation as a good cook, had managed San Fernando’s most popular bakery during the post-Liberation—“La Satisfacion”. When she reached her 50s, her daughter and son-in-law decided to take over the reins of the business and relaunched it as “Apung Gari Bakery and Kiosk”.

 One cannot miss the spacious and spanking new bread and snack house, as the store name --“Apung Gari Bakery and Kiosk”—was emblazoned atop the building, visible at a distance. Hanging signboards outside indicated the name of the establishment and the proprietor—“Jesusa Q. Valencia—General Merchant, Importer””. “Apung Gari” sported the prevalent midcentury look, with large glass cabinets encasing their tempting hot pan de sal, biscocho, cheese bread, monay, pandecito and puto seco. There were also glass jars full of candies, tira-tira being a favorite of school children.

Fixed stools upholstered with vinyl lined a sleek, curved island where one could sit and enjoy some snack, diner style. Shelves neatly displayed rows and rows of canned pineapple juice, evaporated milk, bottled catsup, which could be pulled out anytime there is an order.

 For fifty centavos, the 1955 menu offered Pancit Luglug (a best-seller), Arroz con Caldo, Chicken Mami, Magnolia Ice Cream and Ice Cream Sundae. Halo-halo, Lumpiang Prito, Magnolia Milk and assorted cakes and cookies could be had for forty centavos. Lumpiang fresca (fresh lumpia) was the cheapest on the list at thirty centavos.

Other options include different sandwiches and pies. Students from Assumption and nearby schools, government workers and store employees frequented “Apung Gari” for over six decades. To cater to varied tastes, the menu was expanded to include sotanghon (dry or with soup), pancit guisado and goto. It even extended its services to include oven-cooking (“pa-ornu”) of lechon and liempo.

 When the Valencia couple passed away, members of the family continued the business, which thrived, thanks to its strong, loyal customers. It was sold to the Santiago family by the Valencia family around 2007, but the new owners retained the name owing to the pulling power of its name, that evokes simple, but tasty food and good times. The name recently was changed to FBS Bakeshop and Kiosk, and time will tell if the same affinity for the one and only “Apung Gari” will rub off on the newly-named bakeshop.

Friday, March 6, 2015

*379. MERRILL’S MARAUDERS: Shooting a Hollywood Movie in Clark

SHOOTING STARS. A lobby card showing the stars of the movie "Merrill's Marauders", led by actor Jeff Chandler. The movie was mostly shot around the environs near Clark, as the terrain simulated that of Burma, where the story took place. 1961.

 One of the most daring exploits during World War II was when Brig. General Frank D. Merrill led 3,000 American volunteers of his 5307th Composite Unit behind Japanese lines across Burma to Myitkyina, battling the enemies successfully, even beyond their limits.

 Warner Brothers thought that the heroism of the “Merrill’s Marauders”, as the men were called, would make a good Hollywood movie, and so in 1961, it assembled a stellar cast headed by Jeff Chandler (as Brig. Gen. Frank D. Merrill) , Ty Hardin (2nd Lt. Lee Stockton), Peter Brown ( as Bullseye), Will Hutchins (as Chowhound) and Andrew Duggan (Capt. Kolodny, M.D.), and headed off for the Philippines in April 1961 to start the movie production.

 Producer Milton Sperling chose to film his Technicolor production in the Philippines partly because of the similarity of its terrain to that of Burma. Besides, there were the added advantages of the availability of technical facilities in Manila and the comparative lack of language barrier which would make filming easier, smoother. Also, the starstruck U.S. Army’s Special Forces and the Philippine Armed Forces were ready to extend their assistance. Two Filipino actors were also chosen to appear in the movie--Luz Valdez, who as a Burmese girl practically had no speaking lines, and Pancho Magalona, in a minor role.

 Clark Air Force Base in Angeles town proved to be the perfect production headquarters for the cast and crew, as the required rugged jungles, mountainous terrains and were just behind the military base. A February 1962 issue of Screen Stories, a Hollywood movie magazine reported the behind-the-scene stories: “While on march in the jungles, the film company lived in camps with no comforts.

Diminutive Negrito tribesmen were employed as bush beaters to drive off predatory beasts and snakes. No sprayed glycerine was necessary to make the actors “sweat’ for the camera, for the merciless jungle sun beat down on their steel helmets. Filming scenes in foxholes found such unwelcome visitors as lizards, land crabs, and all kinds of bugs and snakes. For scenes in which they waded through swamps, they were invariably covered with leeches.”

 Hundreds of Americans from Clark volunteered as extras for the large-scale battle scenes. After their strenuous rehearsals on the first day, thirty percent failed to come back for more. The movie war was too tough!

 To make matters worse, Chandler suffered a slipped disc while playing baseball with U.S. servicemen while taking a break on the set at Clark, exacerbating a previous back condition. He insisted on postponing hospitalization in order to remain with his fellow actors until the picture finished. Director Samuel Fuller respected Chandler’s loyalty, but he arranged treatment of the agonizingly painful back injury.

 His co-stars Ty Hardin and Peter Brown, on the other had, had the time of their lives in Angeles. They learned about dating olive-skinned beauties the hard way. Brown mused, “A Filipino girl is always accompanied by a chaperon, and the only way to make a date is to gift the father’s best friend with several jugs of native joy water”.

 When the filming wrapped up, Before the cast of the movie put on a show at the Silver Wing Theater, on the base, for the U.S. servicemen and their families. Chandler sang ballads. Hardin, Brown and Duggan left their audience in stitches by playing absent-minded cowboys in a satire on TV Westerns. The Hollywood stars endeared themselves to the Negritos when they adopted a 55 year old, 3-foot tall native. He was thrilled when they presented him with a Mickey Mouse wristwatch.

Almost bursting with pride, he exclaimed: “Now I am the richest man in my village. In trade for this watch ,I can get myself several wives!”. The cast returned to Hollywood where everything went back to normal for most of the actors. Chandler, whose back condition had taken a turn for the worse, was hospitalized on May 13 at Culver City Hospital. A surgery was performed but an artery was damaged, leading to his death on 17 June 1961.

Chandler did not live to see the 1962 premiere of “Merrill’s Marauders” , but it certainly would have made him happy to know that the film became a critical and commercial success, thanks in part to the support of many Filipinos and Americans in Clark Air Force Base.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


POPE PIUS XII MEETS KAPAMPANGANS IN ROME. A pilgrim group, composed of some Kapampangan prelates, holds a rare audience with the Pope at the Vatican in 1953. Among those in the photo are Frs. Manuel V. Del Rosario and Fr. Jose de la Cruz. 

 For four days in January (15-19), “Pope Francis Fever” gripped the country, as the 266th Vicar of Christ made a pastoral visit to our country—specifically to meet Typhoon Yolanda victims-- arriving here to a rapturous welcome seen nowhere else in the world. Everyone, it seems, was out on the road, hoping to get a chance encounter with the good Pope. But luckier still were the few chosen to participate in the official activities of the papal visit, both directly and indirectly.

 In the past, a smattering of Kapampangans have had meetings with the Holy Father. The foremost Kapampangan religious figure, Rufino Cardinal Santos, for example, received his red hat from Pope John Paul XXIII, who, between 1961-62 set a precedent by naming more princes of the Church to a record high total of 87 cardinals. Cardinal Santos’s retinue in Rome included his aide Msgr. Manuel V. Del Rosario of Angeles. At the installation of the new cardinal on 28 March 1960, a VIP kabalen was seated on the front row—Vice President Diosdado Macapagal of Lubao.

 The first ever papal visit to the Philippines by a supreme pontiff on 27 November 1970 afforded more Filipinos the chance to see Pope Paul VI. Again, Cardinal Santos was at the forefront of arranging this fateful visit, marred by an attempted assassination of the Holy Father’ by a knife-wielding Bolivian painter.

 Such close encounters with the Pope, however, were reserved for the more exalted figures of the Philippine church and state. The two Philippine visits of the charismatic Pope John Paul II saw a loosening of the protocol, making the Holy Father more accessible to all. This tradition has also been embraced by the current pope, Pope Francis, the pope of many firsts. As a result, in his 2015 visit, many kabalens had this once-in-a lifetime opportunity to leave their marks in the historic event, through their personal involvements in key programs of the papal visit, that continues to be the talk of the nation.

 Our Kapampangan president, Benigno Aquino III, led the way in welcoming the Pope the day after his arrival at the Malacañang. His address, however, did away with the niceties associated with the usual warm Philippine greetings, and instead, proceeded to make references to the failings of the past administration, and the indifference of the clergy to point out political sins. Sure, the president pointed out the roles of Cardinal Sin and the rising star that is Cardinal Tagle, but this did not do much to dry P'noy’s wet blanket welcome. Even the joke about the Pope being a “security nightmare” for the Philippines was not funny. Observers and columnists had a field day calling the president ‘s action ”inappropriate”, “boorish” and that he “missed his day in history”.

 On a more positive note, an acclaimed Kapampangan ecclesiastical artist, Wilfredo Tadeo Layug, was commissioned by the Archdiocese of Palo to carve a Filipiniana Marian image that took centerstage at the papal mass at Tacloban on January 17.

 Millions at the venue and on TV watched as Pope Francis venerated the image briefly, a beautiful 7-foot work of art, showing the Blessed Virgin carrying the Christ Child, his little hand extended to 3 children caught in the storm. The crucified likeness of Christ seen at the Leyte event was also carved by the master artist. (It is also interesting to note that the granite top of the altar table was made by a shop in Angeles City). Layug also created the central crucifix for the papal mass at the Quirino grandstand in Luneta.

As if these contributions were not enough, Layug also gifted Pope Francis with a smaller Marian image carved from wooden debris salvaged from the Palo Cathedral that was devastated by the super typhoon.

 The Kapampangan language was heard three times on separate occasions in the course of the pope’s visit: at the Encounter with Families at Mall of Asia, at the liturgical services at the University of Santo Tomas and at the concluding papal mass at the Quirino Grandstand. Young Kapampangan Bien Carlo Manuntag of San Fernando, read the Prayer of the Faithful in Kapampangan , heard by the Pope himself, and by millions of devotees in Luneta.

 Some 100 Kapampangan families were invited to join the Encounter with Families at the Mall of Asia, and among the lucky ones chosen to participate in the unprecedented event were the Magtoto (San Fernando), Tony Santiago (Porac) and Savina de la Cruz (Arayat) families.

 Finally, in the Tacloban leg of the papal visit, it was a Kapampangan pilot who flew Pope Francis out of the typhoon-threatened town. Capt. Roland Narciso of Angeles also advised the papal retinue of the danger posed by the typhoon, which led to the shortened visit. Capt. Narciso, member of the PMA Class of 1995, was the chief pilot who safely flew the Pope back to Manila, in a PAL Airbus A320 plane.

 Meeting the pope in one’s lifetime was once a remote possibility, but now the dream has been made real for Kapampangans blessed to have seen Pope Francis up close, whom the world sees as truly a “people’s pope”. As one papal fan gushed, “to stand by next to the Pope, is the next best thing to standing next to Jesus!”