Tuesday, April 26, 2016


LUCAS, KING OF BALUGAS, arrayed in regal splendor, in military uniform, boots, hat, and complete with military medals, badges and a swagger stick. 1922. Photo courtesy of Mr. Jim Biven.

Our history shows that Negritos (Balugas, now used pejoratively) , like other ethnic groups, have always been marginalized since the day lowlanders took over their lands and conquistadors drove them back into the far reaches of the islands, in uncharted mountains and forests. Still others were sold into slavery.

No wonder, Negritos continued to be nomadic in their ways, unable to integrate with other Filipinos. For many years, this has helped them retain their customs and tradition, including their system of leadership.

 The American Thomasite Luther Parker, in his report on work among Pampanga Negritos in 1908, wrote about a certain “King of All Negritos of Pampanga”, by the name of Lazaro. But while the Negritos did have their own leadership system, there were no “kings” to speak of. Among the clans in their community, seniority is equated to authority. The oldest member of the clan was sought for advice, especially when tribal transgressions took place, and was looked up to as a chief.

 It was an American general who first gave a Negrito a royal title--Gen. Johnson Hagood--who took command of Camp Stotsenburg in 1922. By the time of his assignment, the Negritos had become privileged visitors of the post, silently paddling across officers’ residences, peddling orchids, ferns, animals and cultural souvenirs like bows and arrows to the foreigners. Negritos had easy access to the camp, and Americans let them be—even gamely posing with the naked natives for photos.

Gen. Hagood was also fascinated by these dark-skinned Filipinos; he even wrote many anecdotes about them, which filled up 7 pages of his published 2-volume memoirs.

 Beyond his amusement and interest, Gen. Hagood shared the belief with fellow Americans that help and protection would not come from the local government; hence, he viewed the Negritos with paternalistic concern. The one who struck most his fancy was the Baluga chief, “General Lucas”, an elderly Negrito with a dignified mien and who conducted himself with a confident air.

 Gen. Lucas once presented himself to the general arrayed as “a brigadier general in a miniature khaki uniform wielding a sword” and wearing an assortment of “fantastic and humorous commendations”, one of which was a Manila Carnival medal that identified him as “a prize bull”.

 Hagood proclaimed Gen. Lucas as “King of Balugas ”, and gave him a peace-keeping role in his region that was often beset by 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”.

 Of course, the ceremonies were all done in good humor, but Gen. Lucas took his title seriously, even posing for an “official royal photo” smartly dressed in military regalia. What his fellow Negritos felt or thought of at that time can never be known, but for the next decades, they continued to become fixtures of Clark Field, with many families settling in “Baluga Village” in the 1970s. They enjoyed perks such as free medical care (the base hospital allocated a budget for them), free food from welfare groups run by the wives of American servicemen, and they could also set up stalls to sell “authentic” souvenir weapons (actually, Manila-made).

 King Lucas is now but a blur in our memory, a king of nothing with his small” kingdom” nearly gone—swallowed by Pinatubo, taken over by malls and resorts, stolen by unscrupulous land grabbers. Even the culture and traditions of his race are being obliterated and changed by modernism. Help from the government has been too long in coming. Yet, the hardiness of these simple, free-spirited Filipinos remains, but only time will tell if this is enough for their future survival.

Friday, April 1, 2016

*401. LIZA LORENA: A Luciano Star from Magalang

LIZA WITH A K. Born Elizabeth Ann Jolene Luciano Winsett, this multi-awarded actress comes from a family whose history is linked with that of Magalang town, where she was born.

 The Kapampangan beauty who rose to stardom after a series of career moves was born Elizabeth Ann Jolene Winsett y Luciano on 31 October 1949, to American George Winsett and MagaleƱa, Josefina Luciano.

The Lucianos—together with the Cortezes and the Suings—are recognized as founders of the town, and Elizabeth’s forebears include prominent relatives like Dons Jose and Antonio Luciano, and the lawyer Andres Luciano.

 She spent her formative years going to Catholic schools at nearby Angeles, first at Holy Family Academy and then to Holy Angel Academy. Her family, however, moved to Manila when Elizabeth turned 13, so she had to complete her high school at Our Lady of Loreto in Sampaloc.

 Soon after graduation, she was accepted as a domestic flight stewardess at Philippine Air Lines, then took a corporate job at the Philippine Tourism and Travel Association as a tour guide/receptionist. Things became even more exciting for the teener when she joined the 1966 Bb. Pilipinas Pageant and placed second to winner Clarinda Soriano.

 This exposure led to movie offers from such leading studios as Sampaguita Pictures and Nepomuceno Productions. Asked to do a script reading with director Luis Nepomuceno, Elizabeth gamely went through the audition that she thought was for a commercial. She had prepared for the reading by practicing Tagalog, a language she was not well-versed in. Elizabeth was chosen from a field of over 60 ladies, but unbeknownst to her, the reading was actually a screen test for a movie project.. destined to be a classic --“Dahil sa Isang Bulaklak”’ 

 She was given the screen name “Liza Lorena”, and immediately was cast as Esperanza in a family drama headlined by major stars Charito Solis and Ric Rodrigo, who portrayed her parents. ”Dahil sa Isang Bulaklak” was touted as the “biggest Filipino film ever in 50 years ” and the first Philippine movie in color by De Luxe. It was released in 1967 to thunderous acclaim.

 Many thought that Lorena’s star would shine brighter after such an ominous start. She, however, put her budding career on hold after her relation with matinee idol Eddie Gutierrez produced a son, Eduardo Antonio Gutierrez Jr.. Just 18, the teen-age mother risked not only losing her career but also incurring the disapproval of movie audiences. However, Lorena was determined to take care of her son—who would grow up to be the equally-accomplished actor, Tonton Gutierrez.

In later years, she would also have a daughter with Honey Boy Palanca. Lorena would rebound only in 1982, in the acclaimed Peque Gallaga-helmed classic, “Oro, Plata, Mata”. The epic period film, which told of the changing fortunes of two Negros families with the coming World War II, earned for Lorena, the Film Academy of the Philippines’ (FAP) Best Supporting Actress award. In 1986, she won another Best Supporting Actress honors, this time, from Gawad Urian for the movie “Miguelito: Batang Rebelde”. 

That same year, she was named “Best Actress” of the Manila Film festival, for “Halimaw sa Banga” and was also cited by FAMAS with a Best Supporting Actress nomination for “Pahiram ng Ligaya”. Her most recent Best Actress triumph came at the 9th Gawad Tanglaw Awards, for the movie “Presa”, completed in 2010.

 Lorena is also a staple in many popular TV series— “Pangako Sa ‘Yo” (ABS-CBN, 200) “Kung Mawawala Ka” (GMA 7, 2001-2003) , Maria Flordeluna (ABS-CBN, 2007) , "Lobo” (ABS-CBN, 2008), “Apoy Sa Dagat” (ABS-CBN, 2013), and “Akin Pa Rin ang Bukas” (GMA, 2013). In a career that spanned 4 decades, Lorena has appeared in more than 185 movies and television shows since 1967.

 Today, Lorena remains a single mother, and continues to be active in showbiz—a feat she takes pride in. One other source of pride is grandson, Carlos Philippe Winsett-Palanca, who, in 2009, placed first at the Kids Golf European Championships in Scotland.

Lorena, a Kapampangan speaker, also has remained very much in touch with her Pampanga roots—she regularly goes to her school homecomings at Holy Angel, now a University, in Angeles. She may have taken unexpected detours in the course of her life journey, but this resilient Kapampangan artist has always managed to get back on track, finding fulfillment on paths that few have chosen to travel.