Thursday, December 16, 2010


IT WAS the Spaniards who brought Christmas to the Philippines, but it was the Americans who taught us how to celebrate it.
The Christmas that the Spaniards brought here was strictly a religious celebration -- rituals held inside the church, prayers and songs steeped in biblical and ancient European references -- which is why no indigenous Christmas songs came out of the entire 300 years of Spanish colonial rule.

In the early 1900s, however, the Americans secularized Christmas, introducing Santa Claus, Christmas tree, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Then and only then did Filipinos embrace Christmas and make it their own.

I think, however, that we Kapampangans embraced and claimed Christmas much earlier than the rest of the Philippines.

The common folk in those early days had a way of sneaking away bits and pieces of church rituals and reinventing them into something that they could claim as their own. That's what they did with the Bible: because they were never permitted to own one, the common folk memorized the Sunday gospel readings as they heard them, ran home and wrote them down, strung them together and produced the pasyon, which is apocryphal in some parts but so what, it served its purpose as the Bible of the masses for 300 years.

Christmas was too joyous an occasion to be limited inside the church and celebrated in just one day, so it was extended to nine days, beginning December 16, and that's how Filipinos in the Spanish colonial times began the tradition of simbang gabi. I am not sure if we merely acquired it from the Mexicans; my own theory is that it was initiated by the native secular priests, which had an interim hold of the parishes vacated by the religious missionaries (who were ejected from their parishes by a royal decree sometime in the late 1700s).

But we Kapampangans did one more unique thing: we invented the lubenas. (Historian Mariano Henson wrote that by the time the town of Angeles adopted La Naval in 1830, Kapampangans had already been doing the lubenas every year.)

Lubenas came from the word novena, which means nine days, referring to the nine-day simbang gabi. But while the rest of the country was content with attending dawn masses for nine consecutive days, Kapampangans went a step farther by holding a procession on the eve of every simbang gabi, i.e., they had a procession after dinner, which means they slept late, and then woke up before dawn for the simbang gabi (or simbang bengi in Kapampangan).

Waking up early after sleeping late is a double whammy, but that's exactly what Kapampangans must do as a form of penance in preparation for the birth of Christ -- Kapampangans, after all, are known for their excesses and for taking their religion very seriously.

They are also very fond of processions. When the procession takes place on the river, they call it libad; when held on land, it's called limbun. The lubenas is a form of limbun; the difference is that it's lit not by hand-held candles but by lanterns mounted on bamboo poles.

Two rows of these lanterns, usually six on each row for a total of 12 (representing the 12 Apostles) precede the andas (shoulder-borne carriage) or carroza (wheeled carriage) bearing the santo. At the head of the procession is a lantern in the shape of a cross, and right behind it is another lantern in the shape of a fish, with movable fins, mouth and tail (fish is the ancient symbol of Christ).

In the early days, there were other animal lanterns, like lamb (representing the Lamb of God), dove (representing the Holy Spirit), and the stable animals of the Nativity. Aside from their religious references, they served as an added attraction, since processions were also a spectacle for the public to watch and enjoy, very much like a parade.

Right behind the carroza is the climax of the lubenas, a giant lantern that served as illumination to the santo on the carroza (it’s actually the origin of the Giant Lantern tradition of San Fernando).

Trailing this big lantern are the singers, and the song that they sing over and over is Dios te salve (Hail Mary in Spanish), which has at least seven versions, all arranged by Kapampangans. In my hometown of Mabalacat, every barangay has its own version of Dios te salve.

The lubenas, unfortunately, is a vanishing tradition. Today, only a few northern towns in the Kapampangan region still hold lubenas in December. These are Mabalacat, Angeles, San Fernando, Mexico, Magalang, Capas and Concepcion.

In Mabalacat and Angeles, organizers have made lubenas a competition to inject adrenalin into the dying practice. The worsening traffic situation has also made lubenas (or any procession for that matter) a risky business, which is why fewer people attend it.

The lubenas is a precious cultural gem, unique to Kapampangans. While cash prizes are a great incentive to revive interest in the lubenas, they are actually cheapening it and reducing it to the level of a lantern contest.

The lubenas, first of all, is the property and therefore responsibility of the parish, not the government or any private organization. The parish priest, through the parish pastoral council, should take the initiative in restoring its potency as a para-liturgical activity that's meant to bring Catholics back to church, like moths being lured to the light. Barangays can have their respective lubenas, provided they all converge to the parish patio on Christmas eve, like they do in Mabalacat (then it's called maitinis, or matins, “prayers after midnight”).

While government and non-government organizations must be commended for their good intentions, the local church should find ways to reclaim and sustain this charming Kapampangan tradition, and reassert its original religious intent and content.

Sunstar Pampanga (December, 206) 


ON JANUARY 10, the kuraldal season of Sasmuan ends with street dancing to be held around the chapel of Barangay Sta. Lucia, just a short distance from the town's parish church.

The archbishop will concelebrate a mass with the parish priest on a makeshift altar at the chapel's rear, facing an intersection, which is the only spot in the area that's large enough to accommodate the big crowd.

Kuraldal is the Kapampangan equivalent of Obando's Sta. Clara and Cebu's Sto. Niño festivals, in which devotees dance their prayers and petitions. In Sasmuan, the object of devotion is St. Lucy, the town's patron saint. While devotees dance, they shout "Viva Sta. Lucia! Puera sakit! (Long live St. Lucy! Away with ailments!)"

Spanish chronicler Fray Gaspar de San Agustin, OSA wrote in Conquistas de las Islas Filipinas (1698) that St. Lucy had been venerated in Sasmuan "since long ago," i.e., the devotion may have been brought by the conquistadores in this ancient town when they arrived in 1571.

The small wooden image of St. Lucy enshrined in the chapel, according to heritage expert Prof. Regalado Trota Jose, is probably the earliest image of the saint in the town, older than either the one found in the parish church or the one taken out in procession during the town fiesta; it is also not made in Spain or Mexico but most likely carved locally because its elongated earlobes, similar to Buddha's, are a characteristic of an ancient carving style in Southeast Asia.

The kuraldal season in Sasmuan begins on December 13 with the feast of St. Lucy, whom the early Roman pagans executed by gouging out her eyes, which is why she is the patron saint of people with eye problems (her image holds a palm leaf, which is the symbol of martyrdom, and a platter with two eyeballs on it).

Pilgrims by the thousands, according to old folks, used to troop to Sasmuan on December 13, the same way pilgrims still do in Antipolo and Manaoag. Residents of Bacolor and Lubao still recall seeing thousands passing by on their way to the town of Sasmuan.

But the town's official fiesta has been moved to January 6; nobody remembers why, but it must have had something to do with the timing of the harvest, because rice and duman planters in Porac and Sta. Rita still coincide their harvest with the Sasmuan fiesta when the demand is great.

Pilgrims come and dance on both December 13 and January 6, but the wildest dancing occurs on the season's last day, January 10. The crowd is so thick that some manage to only sway or jump instead of dance. But those who can dance perform the traditional kuraldal steps; they look like a tribal dance with intervals of swaying and clapping as the brass band slows down before picking up again.

The dancing can go non-stop for hours; some devotees literally dance till they drop, bathed in sweat with eyes rolling as if in a trance. It is really a form of sacrifice or penitence, which is what Kapampangan folks do to ask for favors (like the Holy Week penitents do). In the case of St. Lucy, aside from cure for diseases, devotees pray to have children, and indeed, I have met many previously barren pilgrims who keep coming back to thank the saint for favors granted, their children in tow.

But while Sasmuan has the biggest kuraldal festival in Pampanga, it is not the only place where it's done. In several villages in Macabebe, people dance during their respective patron saints' processions; in Sta. Cruz, Lubao, the kuraldal held during the barrio's fiesta on May 3 causes massive traffic jam along Olongapo-Gapan Road. In Betis, costumed performers dance their version of kuraldal with swordfights on the feast of St. James on July 25.

These places are all located in the southern half of Pampanga. Nowhere in the northern towns will you find kuraldal. Is it because Angeles and San Fernando and adjacent towns have been so urbanized that they will never be caught doing a thing as folksy as dancing in the street? Or is it because of the southern towns' proximity to the Pampanga River, the cradle of Kapampangan civilization? Are Kapampangans living in the more ancient southern towns more in touch with their cultural fountainhead?

I notice that Kapampangans in the river communities dance at the drop of a hat; in the more agricultural northern towns, they have to dress up first and create artificial inducements like tigtigan terakan king dalan (street disco) to bring themselves to dance in public.

Sasmuan and those other towns holding kuraldal should realize the value of this cultural practice, its potency as a socio-religious expression and its potential for tourism. While it has similarities with Obando and Cebu, kuraldal is unique to Pampanga because it is wilder and more tribal. It is a vestige of a lost pagan ritual, replaced long ago with this Christian devotion to St. Lucy. It is also an expression of how musical, how carefree and how hedonistic we Kapampangans once were and still are.

The Department of Tourism should promote kuraldal as a genuine Kapampangan festival, with the kuraldal dance steps serving as the basic dance steps in other festivals like the Sinukuan Festival in San Fernando and the Baguis Festival in Angeles -- two well-funded public events in search of cultural roots and a theme and a rhythm that will resonate with the Kapampangan spirit. Public and private schools should introduce it in their PE classes.

Lastly, parishes should make an effort to hold kuraldal during their religious processions. Praying can be more physical than mere mumbling of prayers. Our ancestors put fun in their worship; we who lost it should take a hint from the kuraldal.

Sunstar Pampanga (January, 2007)


ASIDE from the lubenas, another unique feature of the Kapampangan Christmas is the giant lanterns of San Fernando. But unlike the lubenas, which can still be found in several towns, the giant lanterns were, are and most likely will be, exclusively in one town only: the City of San Fernando.

For sure, the art of making paper lanterns did not originate in Pampanga, not even in the Philippines (it most likely started in China). But Kapampangans can stake a claim (until proven otherwise) to paper lanterns as Christmas ornaments.

During colonial times, paper lanterns with candles inside them were used to illuminate religious processions, most notably during the La Naval in Bacolor every second week of November. They replaced hand-held candles, which were impractical for processions held in the breezy months of November and December.

These paper lanterns were most likely mounted on poles, and after the La Naval procession was over, were kept and the following month, used again for the lubenas. So we can deduce that the tradition of lubenas and its star-shaped Christmas lanterns began in the then capital town of Bacolor.

In 1904, the new colonizers, the Americans, moved the provincial capital from Bacolor to the next town, San Fernando, which was booming as a result of a growing sugar industry and the Manila-Dagupan Railroad, which passed San Fernando but not Bacolor. Everything was physically transferred - the Provincial Capitol, government offices, courts, and yes, even the lubenas and its quaint paper lanterns.

In those early days, San Fernando was swinging and galloping at full throttle, fueled by the money of the nouveau rich under the auspices of the Americans. Elegant mansions mushroomed all over town. If the defeated Bacolor was the bastion of Spanish culture, triumphant San Fernando was being reconfigured to showcase the best of American society. Thus, dance parties, balls and socials became the order of the day. Gov. Howard Taft even visited the town.

The lubenas benefited from the economic boom. San Fernando residents spruced up their lanterns, replacing paper with cloth and candles with carbide lamps (carburo). The big lantern of the lubenas, traditionally found right behind the carroza, became even bigger, measuring as wide as 10 feet even in those days. It eventually spun away from the lubenas and took a life of its own, becoming the forerunner of the now-famous giant lanterns.

In 1908, the lubenas became a ligligan (competition) of lanterns. In 1931, carbide lamps were replaced with electricity-powered lights.

Originally, only nine barrios of San Fernando participated; each night of the nine-day lubenas (December 16-24) was assigned to a barrio, which showcases its lanterns around the designated paglimbunan (procession route), i.e., starting from the Baluyut Bridge, turning right to Consunji Street, winding around McArthur Highway, turning to Tiomico Street and then to the other end of Consunji Street before terminating at the patio between the church and the municipal hall.

The original barrios that were assigned dates of lubenas around the parish church were, in chronological order: San Pedro Cutud (first because St. Peter held the keys to heaven), San Nicolas, Del Pilar, Sta. Lucia, San Jose, Dolores, San Agustin, Del Carmen and finally, Sto. Niño (last because the Holy Child was the ultimate symbol of Christmas). The judges viewed the lanterns from the balconies of the mansions along Consunji Street (owned by the Hizon, Ocampo, Rodriguez, Lazatin, Abad Santos and Singian families, among others).

The competition became a vehicle for barrio sugu (Kapampangan term for bayanihan), in which the wealthy residents of the barrio funded the construction of the lanterns (locally known as parul or tambul tambulan) while the poor residents volunteered their skills.

Because lanterns easily wore out and the giant ones could not be stored anywhere, the maitinis (final night of the lubenas during which all barrio entries converged in the church patio) became the occasion for paspasan tambul tambulan, in which holders of the lanterns-on-poles from one barrio smashed their lanterns against those of other barrios. The last lantern standing was declared winner. It was a rather violent ending for such dainty lanterns, which was probably why the smashing part was discontinued after a while.

It was around the 1930s that the rotor made its first appearance. The rotor is the mechanism that makes the lights inside the giant lantern dance; it consists of a barrel wrapped with a metal sheet, a row of hairpins (aspilé), and spaghetti-like electric wires that connect the rotor to the lantern.

When the operator rotates the rotor, the hairpins glide against the metal sheet, conveying electricity to the lantern. The secret is in the design of the masking tapes, which determines which lights in the lantern go on and off.

It is both primitive and innovative - a testament to the creative genius of Kapampangans. The fact that it is still being used today, after over 50 years, and after the lanterns had grown into humongous proportions requiring a huge amount of electric power, truly defies reason.

Rodolfo David, who died in 1971, is the acknowledged inventor of the rotor. David belonged to a family of lantern makers in barrio Sta. Lucia, whose patriarch, Francisco Estanislao, pioneered lantern making in San Fernando in the early 1900s.

His son-in-law, Severino David, introduced battery-operated giant lanterns in the early 1940s. After World War II, the family popularized the use of papel de japon for lanterns, which was a major aesthetic leap. Rodolfo David, aside from inventing the rotor, also produced a new lantern design in 1958, which has defined the so-called classic San Fernando lantern and influenced practically all other succeeding giant lantern designs.

The clan's present torchbearer is Ernesto David Quiwa, who introduced plastic vinyl as a more durable replacement to papel de japon; he is the first to win grand slam in the annual Ligligan and is credited to have brought the San Fernando parul to national and international prominence.

Today the Giant Lantern Festival is a certified national event that draws not only hundreds of thousands of viewers but also jurors that include foreign dignitaries and national figures. The lanterns are as large as houses, using up to 4,000 light bulbs and costing half a million pesos each. The acknowledged king of giant lanterns these days is Rolando Quiambao, whose passionate advocacy for the preservation of this unique Kapampangan tradition has attracted media attention and hordes of new admirers.

These giant electronic peacocks are truly a sight to behold; we Kapampangans have probably become jaded to them but tourists who see them for the first time gasp and gape; it's like witnessing a fleet of spaceships blinking with rainbow colors and descending from the starry December sky.

They are also community heirlooms, like the giant pyramids, which contain an ancient folk technology passed down from the ancestors. Part of their charm is their fleeting nature; they are assembled only in December and in January they are disassembled again, because their size prevents them from getting stored even in warehouses.

You often see cannibalized giant lanterns lying around in backyards and empty lots during the rainy season, like skeletons long decomposed and awaiting their next reincarnation. These magnificent cultural icons do not deserve this treatment.

The government should put up a foundation to ensure their survival in the years, even generations, ahead. Right now, some of them are funded by sponsors who can dictate their preferred designs and even insinuate their product logo on the face of the lantern.

The music to which the lanterns dance should be live and not canned, and certainly not cheesy tunes. Beethoven, Strauss and Mozart would be fine, but traditional Kapampangan music would even be better. Also, there should be a way to preserve and display them all year round.

An impoverished barangay spending close to half-a-million pesos for something to be displayed for only a few days is impractical, even immoral. Giant lanterns should go beyond Christmas; they should be transported to different towns where thousands of Kapampangans still haven't gone to SM to see a giant lantern, and should be displayed during fiestas and other big public occasions.

Lastly, the rotor system should be retired in a museum. It's a cultural gem, but it's an albatross around the neck of the giant lantern, dragging it down. Giant lanterns should be easy to transport and to mount, anywhere. But with huge rotors on a six-by-six truck following them around, who wants a giant lantern in their park, yard or patio? I am sure we have enough technology with which to replace the rotor. This way, we can all focus on the marvel of the lights and colors of the giant lantern, instead of its underbelly.

(With additional notes by Landlee A. Quiwa)

SunstarPampanga (December, 2006)


MAKE your Christmas a little different this time by making it a Kapampangan Christmas.

Forget chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and fill your noche buena table with native fare like lagang pasku (with old-style Chinese ham), asadung manuk, bringhi, tsokolate king batirul, panara (which nobody makes anymore) and an assortment of suman from Cabalantian.

If you hang a lantern outside your window, make sure it's a Kapampangan parul (lantern), which means it's either the multi-colored San Fernando parul or the white variety made in Angeles City.

You may also want to get yourself a Paskung Kapampangan CD; make sure you turn up the volume when you play it so that your neighbors will hear it, too. I am saying this not because our Center for Kapampangan Studies is the CD's producer, but because all the songs are original, really good and evocative of a true Kapampangan Christmas.

If you attend the simbang bengi (dawn Mass), try to attend the ones held in Mabalacat, where the parish choir still performs the pastorella, a colonial-era collection of church hymns sung only during this time of year.

When I was a child, the pastorella were the only motivation I had to wake up at dawn and go to Mass. There's no Kyrie like the Kyrie of the pastorella, no Gloria like the Gloria of the pastorella, and no Agnus Dei like the Agnus Dei of the pastorella--all performed with violins and operatic flourish that make you think our ancestors composed them that way to keep drowsy churchgoers awake.

Mabalacat is the only place in the Philippines where they keep the pastorella alive.

It is also one of only three or four towns in the Kapampangan region where they still have the lubenas, a unique and quaint tradition where a procession of lit lanterns is held for the nine consecutive nights before Christmas (December 16 to 24), which is also the same period for the simbang bengi.

In fact, the reason people do the lubenas is the same reason they do the simbang bengi--to mortify the flesh in preparation for the nativity of Christ. It's no easy task, after all, to stay up late for the lubenas and then wake up early for the simbang bengi. (Our Kapampangan ancestors learned this from their strict Spanish cura parroco.)

On the night of December 24, the place to be is again Mabalacat, for the assembly of all lubenas processions from as many as 20 barrios. You can imagine how the church patio will look like on Christmas Eve with hundreds of glittering, flickering lanterns of all sizes, shapes and colors. The event is called maitinis, and it's not done anywhere but Mabalacat.

And then of course, there's the Giant Lantern Festival (ligligan parul) of San Fernando. The sheer size of the lanterns is dumbfounding enough; what's even more amazing is the crude contraption that powers them, made of tin barrels, hairpins, masking tape and a spaghetti mesh of electric wires.

How this primitive mechanism produces the kaleidoscope of dancing lights on lanterns as big as houses is truly a wonder of Kapampangan ingenuity and imagination. We should all support this living treasure and make sure the rising costs (half a million pesos per lantern) do not kill it in the long run.

I wish, though, that they'd hold the festival in a more culturally appropriate venue, not some parking lot of a distant mall. When an activity is held in a commercial area, then that activity becomes a commercial activity, no longer a cultural one.

Remember that the giant lantern festival started over a hundred years ago as part of the lubenas in Bacolor (later moved to San Fernando along with the transfer of the provincial capital). It was held in the church patio because, well, it was a religious activity. Maybe it's time we should bring it back to its original venue.

If the cathedral patio is too small, they can probably spread the giant lanterns along the stretch of Consunji Street all the way to the capitol grounds so that the whole district lights up this Christmas and tourists will go to the town proper, not the mall on the boundary with Mexico.

On December 29, make sure you go to Betis for the Serenata, another charming Kapampangan folk tradition where two or three local brass bands try to outdo each other by alternately playing tunes until the wee hours. Some of the musical pieces they play come from classical Italian operas taught to them by the early Thomasites.

On New Year's Day, about two in the afternoon, go to Minalin town for the annual Aguman Sanduk cross-dressing festival. It's a festival unlike any other: farmers, fisherfolk and all the local tough guys wear their wives' or mothers' dresses (with matching wigs and lipstick) and parade in the streets.

It started in the 1930s as a dare among the menfolk; how it survived a world war, insurgency, and a volcanic eruption is a testament of the commitment of the townspeople of Minalin to preserve their cultural heritage.

Finally, the long Kapampangan Christmas season ends on January 6, feast of the Three Kings, which is also the climax of the kuraldal season of Sasmuan. Make sure you are there on that day: the mad dancing and gyrating that characterize this unique Kapampangan festival would make Obando and the Sinulog seem like a harmless grade-school folk dance.

The kuraldal is an ancient fertility dance which the Spanish chronicler Fray Gaspar de San Agustin described in 1698 as a ritual practiced in Sasmuan "since long ago."

While in Sasmuan, don't forget to buy pasalubong: their bite-sized bobotu is one-of-its-kind.
Have a merry Kapampangan Christmas!

Sunstar Pampanga (December, 2009)


There is no Christmas like Christmas in the Philippines, and the province that can claim to have the best Christmas celebration in the country is, without doubt, the province of Pampanga.
There may be other places with brighter Christmas lights, or taller Christmas trees, but here in Pampanga, we have the most unique, most enduring Christmas traditions, the richest noche buena fare, and of course, the largest and most beautiful Christmas lanterns. We even built an entire village where Christmas could literally be celebrated all year round.

Consider these: only Kapampangans hold lubenas, a quaint religious procession where the image of the patron saint is preceded by a lantern in the shape of a cross, a lantern in the shape of a fish (the ancient symbol of Christ) and 12 lanterns (representing the 12 apostles).

Right behind the santo is a final lantern, larger than all the others and behind it a chorus singing Dios te salve (Hail Mary in Spanish).

All lanterns are lit inside, producing a beautiful multi-colored luminescence, which lights up the streets and attracts onlookers and passing vehicles.

The lubenas, held for nine consecutive days before Christmas (lubenas is corruption of novena, or nine days of prayer and devotion), culminates in the maitinis on Christmas eve, when all the lantern processions from different barangays converge in front of the parish church so that all participants in the procession could attend the midnight mass.

It's a sight to behold, rarely seen and photographed because, well, even media people don't go to work on the night before Christmas.

This tradition still survives in Mabalacat, Angeles, San Fernando and some other towns in northern Pampanga and southern Tarlac.

Like the lubenas, the simbang bengi in Pampanga is also done in the nine days before Christmas, beginning December 16.

Our forefathers started this tradition as a mortification of the flesh--in those days, when an important religious festival was approaching, they prepared themselves spiritually not only by praying but also by making sacrifices.

In the case of Christmas, the sacrifice is in the form of staying up late and walking a great distance during the lantern procession, and then waking up early the very next morning to attend the dawn Mass.

Thus, unlike other Filipinos who sleep early so they can wake up early, Kapampangans deliberately worsen their sleep deprivation between the lubenas and the simbang bengi.

The simbang bengi is actually a misnomer, because the Mass is held at dawn (galingaldo or ganingaldo); today, parishioners who attend the night Masses instead of the dawn Masses are conveniently missing the point of the tradition.

In some towns in Pampanga, they still sing the pastorella--a set of liturgical songs in Latin composed in colonial times specifically for the dawn Masses.

I have very fond memories of simbang bengi in my hometown because the pastorella, sung by a choir and accompanied by violins, and performed with all the melodramatic flourish of an opera, kept me awake and entertained in those wee hours.

In fact I suspect that the Spaniards introduced the pastorella precisely to keep the drowsy Mass goers awake.

And then, of course, the giant lanterns -- the term deserves to be in capital letters because these humongous wheels of rotating kaleidoscope of colors and lights are truly world-class and one-of-a-kind.

Their sheer size, and the timing and precision with which the intricate patterns dance, and the exquisite beauty of their design--you would think they were assembled by a well-financed, well-equipped team of hundreds of engineers, computer technicians and programmers, but in reality, they are assembled only in some backyard in the barrio, by a ragtag team of local craftsmen and artisans, using tin drums, hairpins, masking tape, and a spaghetti tangle of wires--plus, of course, loads of inborn talent and wisdom handed down from generations past.

These giant lanterns of Pampanga, often dismantled after Christmas (there's no garage large enough to house them), should be preserved the way the Great Pyramids of Egypt were, because--like the pyramids--they are monuments to our ancestors' ingenuity and living proof of what folk technology can do.

And lastly, the food that is served this time of year is what makes Christmas in Pampanga truly the best in the country--from the duman whose harvest in early November coincides with the countdown to Christmas, to the tsokolati king batirul and the panara which mass goers coming home from the simbang bengi take for breakfast.

Of all the holidays in Pampanga, it is during Christmas when the dining table is most heavily laden with the best that the Kapampangan culinary tradition can offer: galantina, bringhe, asado, escabeche, estofado, afritada, mechado, menudo, azucena, pochero, relleno, morcon, lengua, etc. and the delicacies that only Kapampangans can make--turrones, sans rival, pastillas de leche, tibuk tibuk, pepalto, yemas, sanikulas, empanada, ensaimada, bobotu, pulburun, leche flan, silvana, espasol, araru, putu seco, ale ubi, bibingkang nasi, calame ubi, calame biko, sampelut, inangit, galang galang, putu lazon, kutsinta, suman tili, suman bulagta, suman ebus, patupat, alualu (Kabigting style, Corazon style, Razon style, you name it), pionono, tocino del cielo, samani, bangka bangka, batya batya, bucarillo, putung babi, taisan, plantadilla, rosquetes, mayumung kamias, mayumung kamatis, brazo de la reina, etc.

Tourists who visit Cebu can get dried mangoes, and in Iloilo they get biscocho, in Davao its durian, in Baguio its peanut brittle and in Laguna its buko pie.

Here in Pampanga, especially this time of year, there's a whole cornucopia of delicacies and pasalubong, enough to cause diabetes and get you accosted at the airport for excess baggage.

Happy Christmas to all Kapampangans and please, let's preserve our race by keeping our cholesterol levels down

Sunstar Pampanga (December, 2007)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

FPJ’s Kapampangan roots

I WILL start by posing these questions:

(1) Which Pampanga town is the birthplace of at least five Supreme Court Justices, a dozen Cabinet members and seven Governors?
(2) Which barrio in Pampanga has produced the most number of priests in the Philippines?
(3) Which parish in Pampanga has produced the most number of bishops in the country?
(4) Which Pampanga town has produced two Philippine Presidents?
(5) Which Pampanga town has produced two Kings of Philippine Movies?

 The answers are: (1) Bacolor; (2) Betis; (3) Our Lord’s Ascension Parish, Lourdes Heights, City of San Fernando; (4) Lubao; (5) Lubao. Let me explain the last one.

The town of Lubao is probably the oldest in Pampanga. It used to cover more than its present boundaries, maybe the entire southwestern Pampanga (Macabebe being the entire southeastern part). Mountain tribes from Pinatubo used Lubao as their passage to the coast, which is probably how the town got its name (Lubao came from baba, ‌lowland).

Lubao's strategic location made it one of the oldest and biggest pre-colonial communities in the archipelago. When the Spaniards came to Luzon in 1571, they found an already thriving Muslim community in Lubao (its population of 3,500 made it as big as pre-colonial Cebu). The conquistadores pacified the natives and reorganized the town, with a church built at its center. 

The Augustinian missionaries dedicated it to their most important saint, Saint Augustine. They also put up their very first printing press there. The present parish church of Lubao is the largest in Pampanga - another proof of the town's preeminence in the province.

Today, the whole country knows Lubao as President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s hometown. More importantly, it is the only town that produced two Philippine presidents, the other one being Arroyo’s father, Diosdado Macapagal.

Lubao is also the birthplace of the original King of Philippine Movies, Rogelio de la Rosa. His brother Tomas also became a movie actor named Jaime de la Rosa, while his sister Purita became Diosdado Macapagal’s first wife (Rogelio, whose real name was Regidor, had another sister, Africa, and another brother, who died from an accident at the church belfry). Diosdado and Rogelio acted together in zarzuelas, mostly written by Diosdado’s father, Urbano Macapagal, a famous Kapampangan poet.

When Diosdado ran for President in 1961, the administration convinced Rogelio to also run for President to neutralize the Kapampangan vote; he was, however, prevailed upon by his brother-in-law to withdraw from the race, just days before the election.    

History is often stranger than fiction.  The other King of Philippine Movies, Fernando Poe, Jr., also ran for President in the 2004 elections, against Diosdado's daughter, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.  As we all know, the FPJ juggernaut was on its way to easy victory when the citizenship issue gave it a flat tire.

His political enemies claimed FPJ (real name: Ronald Allan Poe) was not a Filipino citizen because his father, Fernando Poe, Sr. (real name: Allan Fernando Poe), was pure Spanish, and so was his father’s first wife, Paulita Gomez, as well as his paternal grandparents, Lorenzo Poe (or Pou) and Marta Reyes. Lorenzo was a playwright from Mallorca, Spain who had come to the colony years before the 1896 Revolution and settled in San Carlos, Pangasinan.

FPJ’s mother, on the other hand, was Bessie Kelly, whom Fernando Poe, Sr. had met at the University of the Philippines where he studied and posed nude for sculptor Guillermo Tolentino (their collaboration produced The Oblation). They fell in love and got married, which is why Poe Sr.’s first wife, Paulita Gomez, sued him for bigamy, five weeks before Bessie Kelly gave birth to FPJ, in 1939.

The Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of FPJ, citing the Philippine Bill of 1902 and the Jones Law of 1916, which stated that all Spanish citizens living in the Philippines at the time Spain ceded the colony to the United States, were deemed citizens of the Philippines.  FPJ's campaign proceeded, by he lost to Gloria, thanks to Commissioner Garci and his operatives.

I am mentioning FPJ’s citizenship case because there are claims that his mother, Bessie Kelly, who was an American, may have had Kapampangan blood.

Former Pampanga Governor Estelito Mendoza, who served as FPJ’s lawyer in the case, mentioned in the court proceedings that Bessie Kelly’s mother was a Gatbonton from Candaba, Pampanga. FPJ was just a boy when she died so he could not remember even the first name of his maternal grandmother. In her own testimony, Ruby Kelly, Bessie Kelly’s sister and mother of Social Weather Station (SWS) chief Dr. Mahar Mangahas, also did not mention their Kapampangan mother.

My staff at the Center for Kapampangan Studies checked the registros parroquiales (parish records) of Candaba circa 1918 (Bessie Kelly's likely year of baptism, since she was 21 when FPJ was born in 1939) and found many Gatbonton entries (as expected in Candaba), but no Bessie Kelly, no Bessie Gatbonton, no Elizabeth Kelly, no Elizabeth Gatbonton.  It's possible that she was not baptized in her mother’s parish, or, as Center consultant Fray Francis Musni theorizes, she was not baptized at all, because Bessie’s father, an American, was Protestant.

Here’s how it gets even more interesting. Dr. Rodrigo Sicat, author of the book Lubao: The Cradle of Kapampangan Civilization, recently told me that his neighbor in Sta. Cruz, Lubao is one Fred Kelly, who claims that Bessie Kelly is his sister and that FPJ used to frequent Lubao in those early days.

Could Bessie Kelly’s American father have been one of those American colonists who went to Lubao in the early 1900s to cash in on the booming sugar industry in Pampanga?  One American who did was William Fassoth, Sr. He came to invest in sugar lands in Lubao because the town had vast sugar plantations and was only a short distance from the Pampanga Sugar Mills (Pasumil) located in Floridablanca. In World War II, Lubao became a strategic town in Pampanga owing to its railroad station which connected Clark Field with Mariveles, Bataan. (In fact, Fassoth built a camp in Lubao for American GIs, one of whom was named Kelly. The Center has a copy of Fassoth’s personal account.)

More research should be done to establish Bessie Kelly’s father’s roots in Lubao, if indeed they lived there. It all makes sense to me: her mother, a Gatbonton from Candaba, met and fell in love with an American businessman in Lubao, got married and settled in Lubao, which was a suitable place to do business in, and which is where a Kelly, Bessie's alleged brother, still resides.

If all this is proven true, then Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Fernando Poe, Jr. are town mates, after all.  

History cannot get any stranger than that.

First published on September 05, 2006

Magalang's serial-killer priest

JUAN Severino Mallari, date and place of birth unknown but probably a native of Macabebe, was ordained priest in 1809 after completing his seminary studies at the University of Santo Tomas.

Not too many Kapampangans have heard of him but he has secured his place in history for three reasons: (1) he is the second Filipino calligraphic artist-priest, (2) he is the first Filipino priest executed by the Spanish colonial government, and (3) he is the celebrated serial killer of Magalang town.

The details of Juan Severino Mallari's life can be found in Dr. Luciano Santiago's book Kapampangan Pioneers in the Philippine Church 1592-2001, published by the Holy Angel University Center for Kapampangan Studies.

From the start, this gifted Kapampangan priest had had bouts with mental instability brought about by his artistic genius, his mother's strange illness and the string of stressful episodes that most likely aggravated his depression.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, a number of Filipino artists specialized in engraving and painting religious subjects. Two Kapampangan priests, Fr. Mariano Hipolito of Bacolor and Fr. Juan Severino Mallari, did calligraphic drawings (which are preserved in the archives of the Archdiocese of Manila); hence, they are recognized as the first and the second Filipino calligraphic artist-priests, respectively.

Calligraphic drawing is a folk art in which the artist draws figures to decorate the edges of a manuscript. This art form antedated the establishment of the country's first art academy, and was probably inspired by the illuminated manuscripts from Europe, except that the sketches were in black-and-white. (It was only much later when calligraphic drawing became more elaborate when it took the form of letras y figuras.)

Fr. Hipolito and Fr. Mallari took to calligraphic drawing to decorate their usually drab parish annual reports called planes de almas. They had contrasting styles: Fr. Hipolito often drew Spaniards in various poses like hunting, walking their pet or writing at their desk, while Fr. Mallari's favorite subjects were flowery vines and naked boy angels perched on swirling clouds.

Right after ordination in 1809, Fr. Mallari became coadjutor, in quick succession, of Gapang, Lubao and Bacolor. He applied to be pastor (parish priest) of Orani, and failed; then Mariveles, failed again; and Lubao, failed once more. Lastly he applied to be sacristan (chaplain) of the Port of Cavite, was again rejected. In 1812, he was finally and thankfully appointed pastor of San Bartolome Parish in Magalang, Pampanga. However, it was also around this time that his mother was stricken with a strange illness (history does not record the nature of her illness, except to say that Fr. Mallari believed she "had been bewitched").

What happened next was the stuff of horror movies: over a period of 10 years, a series of unexplained murders took place in the bucolic town of Magalang.  Again, history does not record the details of the murders, just the number of victims -- a total of 57 murders!

Considering the size of the town, it was mind-blowing how the killer could have escaped arrest (or even identification) for such a long period. But it was even more mind-blowing that when the killer was finally arrested and identified, it was none other than the cura parroco (parish priest) himself, Fr. Juan Severino Mallari!

At the time of his arrest, Fr. Mallari had already fallen ill due to his psychosis.  And yet the Spanish authorities still hauled him off to Manila and imprisoned like a common criminal, instead of committing him to a mental institution.

According to historian Dr. Santiago, this was unusual and highly irregular, because Spain pioneered the humane treatment of mental patients, having founded one of the first psychiatric hospitals in Europe (named Hospital de Inocentes, to emphasize the innocence of mentally ill people, who were not supposed to be held responsible for their actions).

According to historian Dr. Santiago, who is also a psychiatrist, at the time of Fr. Mallari's arrest in 1826, the Hospicio de San Jose had already been operating for 15 years, so Fr. Mallari should have been taken there instead of the prison.

But the Spanish authorities were probably too outraged by his heinous crimes to be bothered by human rights issues. An account by Spanish chronicler Sinibaldo de Mas, recorded in Blair & Robertson's The Philippine Islands series, says that "The attorney on that case talked in pathetic terms of the indescribable and barbarous prodigality of blood shed by that monster." The account mentions Fr. Mallari's case as an example of the indios' natural tendency to believe all the ghost stories they were so fond of telling.  Fr. Mallari, the account goes, claimed in his defense that he had murdered 57 of his parishioners "because he believed that he could by this means save his mother who, he persuaded himself, had been bewitched."

In 1840, after languishing in jail for 14 years, Fr. Juan Severino Mallari was executed by hanging -- "clearly," Dr. Santiago writes, "a victim of injustice." His death earned him the title in history as the first Filipino priest executed by the Spanish colonial government, since the execution of the Gomburza (Fr. Gomez, Fr. Burgos, and Fr. Zamora) took place only 32 years later, in 1872.

More research needs to be done on this dark episode of Magalang history. Who were the victims? How were they killed? Do they have descendants still residing in Magalang today?

Apu Ceto, Bishop Bobet and Bishop Ambo

Archbishop Paciano Basilio Aniceto

THE Archdiocese of San Fernando, Pampanga is the only archdiocese in the country (except Manila) with three bishops running it; not even the older, more populous Cebu or Naga or Nueva Caceres have as many apostolic leaders.

When Bishop Roberto "Bobet" Mallari was named auxiliary bishop to Archbishop Paciano "Apu Ceto" Aniceto, people heaved a sigh of relief and thanked the Vatican for giving the overworked archbishop an able assistant to run the archdiocese.

This was quickly followed by the announcement that another priest had been named bishop:  the popular Fr. Pablo "Ambo" David of Men of Light fame. Three bishops for a relatively small and young archdiocese (it was created only in 1948)?

Is it Pope Benedict XVI's way of rewarding Kapampangans for their well-known fidelity to the Catholic Church? Or does it mean there are so many problems here that the archbishop needs not one but two auxiliary bishops?

Actually the archdiocese of San Fernando has three suffragan dioceses under it: the diocese of Tarlac (under Bishop Florentino Cinense, nephew of Pampanga's second bishop, Bishop Emilio Cinense), the diocese of Iba, Zambales (under Bishop Florentino Lavarias, native of Mabalacat) and the diocese of Balanga, Bataan (under Bishop Socrates Villegas). They are all technically under Archbishop Aniceto, which is the reason we are called a metropolitan archdiocese.

Auxiliary Bishop Roberto Calara Mallari 

Many Kapampangans consider Apu Ceto a living saint. That reputation dates back to a long time ago, back when I was still a high school freshman at the Mother of Good Counsel Seminary. He was our rector, but unlike most seminary rectors who are distant and fearsome, Apu Ceto was totally accessible.  For example, he could have slept in his air-conditioned room away from noisy high school-age seminarians, yet he chose to sleep with us in the dormitory hall, on a mat instead of a mattress. At 4:30 a.m. when the wake-up bell rang, Apu Ceto, his threadbare bathrobe wrapped around his reed-thin frame, went from bed to bed to rouse oversleeping seminarians. When something made him angry (which was rarer than a solar eclipse), he would only blush a little and give us a hurt look, which of course made the guilty feel guiltier.  

Apu Ceto the rector was serious and humorless; Apu Ceto the archbishop is child-like, bright-eyed and always poking fun at himself. You could say that the miter-and-staff becomes him. I know priests who glow in the company of the wealthy and powerful, but Apu Ceto will never turn down a poor tricycle driver's request to bless his vehicle, or a fish vendor's invitation to go to her small birthday party.

Bishop Bobet Mallari is, in many ways, like Apu Ceto: soft-spoken, humble and yes, saintly. The success of his ministry at the Lourdes Heights Parish, and the reforms he initiated in the University of the Assumption, reveal an astute manager behind a shepherd's gentle ways.  The archdiocesan university was definitely on the road to perdition until Bishop Bobet took the driver's seat and gave it a turnaround. 

On the other hand, Bishop Ambo David's brilliance has inspired a cult following among young priests, seminarians and fans of his cable-TV show.  Fellow bishops at the CBCP regularly seek his counsel (even Apu Ceto quotes him in his homilies).  He is probably the most sought-after resource person, lecturer and guest speaker in the Philippine Church today.  His radicalism, possibly acquired from, or enhanced by, his brother Prof. Randy David, puts fire in his eyes and in his speech, making him a passionate advocate and effective crusader of lost causes.  If Bishop Bobet reminds people of Jesus carrying a lamb around His shoulders, Bishop Ambo is the wild-eyed Jesus cracking the whip and overturning gambling tables at the Temple.  

When we were still seminarians, I once caught Ambo, then a high school junior, maybe 14 years old (I was 11), debating with his classmate and rival, Willie Manrique, over the dogma of the Immaculate Conception -- in Spanish! How many 14-year-olds today can even spell the word conception?

It will really be interesting to watch how our two new bishops will interact with their former seminary rector now that they are all in the same fellowship of the (bishop's) ring.

Auxiliary Bishop Pablo Virgilio Siongco David 
There are many burning issues facing the Universal Church today, including priests being accused of getting mistresses or siring children or molesting minors, as well as priests mismanaging parish funds, leading scandalously opulent lifestyles, and defacing heritage churches and selling church antiques.

Pampanga has always been a bastion of Catholicism since colonial times. The country's first priests, first nuns, first missionaries, first martyrs, first Jesuits -- they all came from Pampanga. The Philippines' first cardinal was a Kapampangan, Rufino Jiao Santos of Guagua. The parish that has produced the most number of priests and seminarians is Betis, Guagua. The list of Kapampangan bishops is long: Archbishop Pedro Santos, Bishop Alejandro Olalia, Bishop Federico Escaler, Bishop Jesus Galang, Bishop Crisostomo Yalung, Bishop Teodoro Bacani, Bishop Florentino Lavarias, Bishop Honesto Ongtioco, not to mention Archbishop Oscar Cruz and Bishop Carlito Cenzon, who are both half- Kapampangans. Even the present head of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Aglipayan Church) is a Kapampangan: Obispo Maximo Godofredo David of Guagua. Former student activist Nilo Tayag of Porac, founder of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM), is now also a bishop of another branch of the Aglipayan Church.

There is no doubt that Kapampangans are among the most religious people in the country: you see it in the number of Masses said every Sunday, in the amount of money collected for church projects, and in the way we treat our priests with genuine, sometimes exaggerated, reverence. You see it even in the number of penitents who flagellate themselves on Good Friday.

But religiosity is not the same as spirituality. How many of the thousands of Kapampangans who go to Mass regularly lead really spiritual lives? If Kapampangans practice what their priests preach, then why isn't the crime rate going down? Why are there as many cases of broken marriages and premarital sex here as anywhere else?

Still, I am happy for my former co-seminarians Bishop Ambo and Bishop Bobet: their combined scholasticism, managerial skills and holiness can only enrich the pastoral leadership of the beloved, charismatic Apu Ceto. 

Monday, November 15, 2010


I love my alma mater, St. Louis University, dearly and with all the affection and nostalgia that an alumnus holds for the school that nurtured him, but there’s another school in my life that has my equal devotion.

Still, despite serving Holy Angel University for 23 long years—practically all the best working years of my life—I have no right to call myself an HAU alumnus. When you’ve worked that long for a certain school, cared for it and grown old with it, you sometimes begin to feel like an alumnus yourself, until you go home and see another diploma hanging on your wall.

This week, as Holy Angel University opens its Diamond Jubilee Year, I would like to cheer the thousands upon thousands of HAU alumni out there, those who carry their alumni card proudly and those who take it for granted, those who know how lucky they are and those who don’t realize it. As an administrator, I can only join in the celebration as a worker in the background, but the party belongs to all the students, past and present, who can claim that their lives have been molded and their destinies shaped by this great institution.

St. Louis University and Holy Angel University are actually alike in many ways: both are the biggest in their respective regions, both charge relatively low tuition fees, both aren’t contented with just being big—they risk their enrolments by upgrading their academic standards. As a result, both SLU and HAU are now recognized as the most prestigious universities in their areas, being the only private schools north of Manila with most of their programs given Level III accredited status by PAASCU.

Many schools in the country find it difficult to balance low tuition fees (to attract students) with high salaries (to attract faculty and administrators) . Some schools sacrifice one for the other, and as a result, they become big but poor quality, or they get good quality but small population. SLU and HAU are successful in both.

But it is no secret to the community that Holy Angel has struggled with this in the past. The social unrest after World War II, followed by the ravages of the Marcos dictatorship, followed by the eruption of Pinatubo, followed by the relentless lahar devastation, wreaked havoc on the school. Faculty and students alternately and sometimes simultaneously held strikes and boycotts. I remember seeing Vice President Noli de Castro, then still a TV newscaster, walking in to interview administrators and student leaders during one particularly nasty boycott, and I remember wondering how a campus issue would interest him and the rest of the nation.

Well, with 15,000 students and nearly 1000 employees, multiplied by the number of their families and friends and the people in their respective neighborhoods, plus the thousands of alumni again multiplied by the number of their relatives and acquaintances— indeed, anything that happens on campus has the potential of becoming the topic of conversation in practically every household in the region.

I can even go farther and say that with all the government officials, businessmen, educators, civic leaders, artists, etc. as well as ordinary citizens acquiring their values and their education from HAU, not to mention the thousands whose present and future livelihoods directly depend on the school—the University’s ups and downs actually help shape the destiny of the whole region.

When I first joined the school in 1985 as an employee, the new President, S. Josefina Nepomuceno, OSB was just beginning to undertake the sweeping reforms that would ultimately take it to where it is today. She is a member of the great Juan D. Nepomuceno branch of the Nepomuceno family tree, the same branch that built the electric plant, the ice plant, the shopping complex, the premier subdivision, and of course, Holy Angel University.

The founding of the school is credited to Don Juan and the parish priest at the time, Fr. Pedro P. Santos, but two other people played equally crucial roles in the story. Don Juan’s eldest son, Javier, who convinced his father to open a new school after he and his classmates had decided not to reenroll in their old school (they didn’t like some school policies), and Ricardo Flores, a teacher at Javier’s old school who had also quit along with other teachers (same reason). Flores, in fact, had already returned to his hometown in Laguna and started a new job with the government when Don Juan and Javier wrote and convinced him to return to Angeles. His role cannot be underestimated because it was really the laymen like him and Don Juan who managed the initial years of the school, which prompted historian Dr. Luciano Santiago to call Holy Angel "the country’s first Catholic school run by laypersons."

On Saturday, March 8, Angelites all over the world will join the Holy Angel University community, in person or in spirit, in opening the school’s Diamond Jubilee Year. I know many in your own family, in your company and in your neighborhood are graduates of HAU, and they probably don’t think much of their alma mater.

Well, tell them about this billionaire software developer from Silicon Valley who has a Holy Angel diploma in his room, or this alumnus who helped build the Ayala empire, or the Dean of the Ateneo School of Law, or the former Secretary of Trade and Industry, or those Catholic bishops, Benedictine abbots, Olympic athlete, Miss International, US state legislator, Grammy Award winner, and even the patriots who founded Kabataang Makabayan and the New People’s Army—all of them started at Holy Angel, they got their education there, they are proud of it, and they are grateful for it.

I don’t have a Holy Angel diploma at home, only an ID card that says I work there. All of you who have an HAU diploma, cherish it like a diamond. Make sure to dust it off this week, or if it’s tucked away in some cabinet, take it out, have it framed and hang it on your wall, and on Saturday, March 8, join all the alumni, wherever they are, in cheering Holy Angel University for all the great and wonderful things it has done to you, to this region, and to the world.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


On the occasion of the fiesta of Angeles City this weekend, let me share with you a composite article based on the 1916 accounts by Macario G. Naval, Jose P. Eusebio and Antonina P. Briones, then students of the great anthropologist H. Otley Beyer at UP Manila.

It’s a strange story of miracles and mysteries, and I need the town’s old-timers to help me separate fact from fiction:

“Although San Fernando is the capital, Angeles is the richest town in the province, the center of gayety, prosperity and civilization.

“Two hundred years ago, Angeles was but a distant barrio of San Fernando, a solitary spot inhabited only by the poor casamac or tenants of the landowners who lived in San Fernando. These landowners visited their haciendas only during the planting and harvesting seasons.

“The spot where the church now stands was once a wilderness haunted by nono and patianac.

“One of the landlords was one called Don Angelo, head of the well-known Henson-Miranda family in San Fernando. Unlike the other landlords, he was exceptionally good to his tenants. He never missed the Sunday Mass, and he always gave donations. He was known far and wide as Apung Angel.

“It was his concern for his poor tenants who lived far from the church in San Fernando that prompted Don Angelo to erect a chapel and a convento on his own plantation.

“Thus Don Angelo became well known and beloved by all the people. He was welcome in every house and his visits were considered a blessing. In his morning walks, it was a pleasure for everyone to receive his friendly greeting. His charity was so inexhaustible that the mere sound of his name brought remedy to any distressed person.

“Only a few years after the inauguration of the chapel, Don Angelo was found dead on his bed. You can imagine the shock and sorrow of his family and all the people who loved him. The anguish of a thousand hearts could not restore him back to life.

“As he had wished, he was buried near the chapel, needless to say with much pomp and loud weeping. After his burial, lamentation continued across the town.

“Seven or eight years later, the town’s parish priest was relaxing in his residence beside the chapel when he saw rays of light emanating from Don Angelo’s tomb.

Curiously, he approached the tomb and found, to his great astonishment, that the air was full of sweet fragrance.

“The priest was so enchanted by the scent and the beauty of the light from Don Angelo’s tomb that he remained standing there for a long time, until everything went back to normal.
“The next day, the priest, accompanied by three Masons and with the entire population gathered around, had the tomb opened.

“Expecting to see his bones, they instead beheld the incorrupt body of Don Angelo, exactly the same as when it was buried seven or eight years before, and filled with fragrance.

“The people led by the priest prayed as they carried the corpse to the chapel. At the suggestion of the priest, the body was to be taken to San Fernando the following day, but behold, another miracle! The next day the corpse of Don Angelo could not be moved from the chapel. So they let the body stay in the chapel, close to the people of Angeles whom he had loved so much.

“Soon news of the miracle spread to other towns and provinces. It is said that the tomb of Don Angelo cured sick people and brought the dead back to life.
“With such a treasure it is no wonder that the little barrio grew so rapidly in popularity and population.

“Many of those who made a pilgrimage to this barrio stayed here for life. In just a few years the barrio became a town and the chapel was replaced by a big church to accommodate all the pilgrims who continued to come in droves. Don Angelo’s body was eventually laid to rest in that chuch.

“Today, we have the progressive and beautiful town of Angeles, named doubtless in honor of Apung Angel.” End of story.

Frankly, I don’t know what to make of this narrative. Its version of the early history of Angeles is mostly accurate, and it got the facts right about the death and burial of Don Angel Pantaleon de Miranda (he did die shortly after Culiat became Angeles in 1829 and his remains had indeed been interred inside the Angeles church, beside the retablo).

But we have no corroborating evidence on the mysterious light, the incorrupt body, the miracles and the pilgrimages. Angeles became the progressive city that it is today mainly because of its proximity to Clark Air Base, not because of the influx of pilgrims.

Unless, that is, someone will come forward and validate this lost and forgotten story.

Monday, November 8, 2010


magcucutud (sketches by Michael Fernando)
THE world that our ancestors lived in was a dark and dangerous world, populated by ghosts and ghouls and a whole gallery of evil spirits -- aswang, duende, capre, ticbalang, magcucutud, patianac, maglalague, maglilili, magcucusinu, culariut. Every stranger they met was suspected to be a witch, every illness interpreted as a spell, and every change in weather pattern considered an omen.

Pythons and crocodiles lurked in swamps and rivers; headhunters waited in ambush just around the corner. After darkness fell, our ancestors made sure all windows were shut tight because huge swarms of mosquitoes usually attacked after midnight. One Spanish friar wrote how shocked he was after witnessing giant mosquitoes attack and kill a chicken. (As recently as five years ago, I interviewed a family of farmers in Lubao who told me that waves of mosquitoes still come at night, causing their hut to shake violently.)

Halloween, to our ancestors, was not just October 31; Halloween, to them, was everyday -- which is why they developed all sorts of rituals and practices to ward off these creatures of the night, real or imagined. (An elaborate description of these Kapampangan beliefs circa 1900 can be found in accounts compiled by ethnographer H. Otley Beyer, in an unpublished volume lent to the HAU Center for Kapampangan Studies by Beyer’s family.)

For example, we still assign people to stay awake all night and watch over the dead lying in state. This originated from our ancestors’ belief in the magcucutud (root word cutud, “to cut”), which is the Kapampangan version of the Tagalog manananggal. The magcucutud’s upper torso detached itself from the rest of the body, flying all night in search of cadavers. Once a cadaver was spotted, the magcucutud “would poison the air, steal the corpse and with a magic potion bring the dead body back to life, after which she would slice the flesh and cook it in the victim’s own blood.”

The magcucutud laid eggs like hens do, and people who took these eggs to the kitchen by mistake would get the shock of their lives when they found a nose, fingers, eyeballs and other human body parts in them.

It was usually the young people who were assigned the task of watching over the coffin all night. To kill time, they played a verbal joust called talubangan (or bulaclacan) where the boys, in the role of talubang (old Kapampangan for “butterfly”) carried a bugtung (riddle) and flitted from one bulaclac to another (the “flowers,” played by the girls) until they found someone who could solve the riddle. The butterfly and the flower were then paired off.  Thus, our prudish ancestors always looked forward to someone dying in the village because the wake was the only opportunity for them to meet and match. That was how love
blossomed among our ancestors -- beside the coffin, in the dead of night and while their old folks slept and snored.

While today’s teenagers are hardly home, our ancestors had an effective way of keeping them within arm’s reach: they invented a creature called manguang anac. This evil spirit usually swooped upon an unsuspecting village, kidnapping two or three children at a time, and then bleeding them to death. People believed that the manguang anac were originally real people, criminals hired by smugglers to collect blood for minting coins, because old folks thought dipping coins in blood was part of the minting process and coins did taste like blood when put in the mouth.

A variation of the manguang anac is the binangunan (obviously a Tagalog word), who also kidnapped children but instead of bleeding them, sucked their blood like vampires do. Children who were pale and thin (due to anemia, quite prevalent in those days) were often suspected of having been victimized by this

A really mean creature was the magcucusinu, the Kapampangan version of the mangkukulam, only much more evil. The magcucusinu had the power to cause pain on any person even from a great distance, either to avenge himself or a friend, or for sheer pleasure. The magcucusinu could magically put poison, a metal object or even a live chicken inside the victim’s body, causing extreme suffering.

There was, of course, the capre, who was “10 to 15 feet tall, very black and wearing a long black coat, had long arms, long beard, a long cane which he used to knock the heads of people, and always had a long cigar in his mouth. He appeared at night during a slight drizzle, staying under a large tree or squatting on its branches or sometimes dangling his legs.”  The capre imagery probably originated from black Africans who worked as slaves for Spaniards; Bergaño referred to these tall, dark-skilled slaves as cafre in his 1732 dictionary (from Muslim derogatory term kafir, or heathen).

Other creatures that populated the dreams and nightmares of ancient Kapampangans were the maglalague, or spirit of the dead who would not leave until his murder was avenged or his hidden wealth found; the maglilili, who cast spells on travelers who would spend hours, even days, trying to find their way
home; the patianac, said to be the souls of unbaptized children, who tormented women during childbirth and harassed immoral people (like unchaste priests and unfaithful husbands); and lastly, the culariut, or dwarf who lived in bamboo thickets or termite mounds, which children often avoided by saying Itábi po, puera nunu! (“Please go away, I hope there is no old dwarf here!”) In Malaysia there’s a vampirish creature which Malaysians call potianac, which is quite similar to the Kapampangan patianac.

Tonight and tomorrow night, which is Halloween, some Kapampangans will still do pamangaladua (root word kaladua, "soul"), also called pamanggosu (root word gosu, "a song in honor of a saint"). Groups of singers go from house to house with a lantern on a stick (similar to what carolers do), which is their way of asking saints’ intercession for the departed relatives of the household. The household is supposed to give them money at the end of the song; if they don’t, the singers throw stones at the house or steal their chickens before they proceed to the next house (the Kapampangan trick-or-treat).

As you can see, unlike us city dwellers who have forgotten the significance of the next three days, our common folk know exactly what Halloween (Oct. 31), All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2) are all about. We’re supposed to celebrate religious feast days on their eve (night before), not the day itself, like Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, which is why the feast day of all saints is celebrated the night before (Halloween is abbreviation for All Hallows Eve, "hallows" meaning holy people, or saints), and the feast day of all souls is celebrated the night before (the reason we troop to the cemetery on November 1, not 2).

The extent of our modern society’s disconnect from its past can be seen in the celebration of Halloween, which is supposed to be the eve of the feast of all saints in heaven, not the ghosts and vampires and all the evil spirits from hell!