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!

Sunday, November 7, 2010


TODAY being All Souls Day, let me share with you accounts of ancient practices associated with the dead, written by Prof. H. Otley Beyer's Kapampangan students in the early 1900s.

Our ancestors had very elaborate ways of preparing a body for burial, because they felt it was their duty to ease his transition to the next life and also because they feared reprisal from a dissatisfied soul.

As soon as someone died in the neighborhood (indicated by loud wailing), neighbors knew exactly what to do next. Members of the grieving family were not allowed to do any work, and so the neighbors took over. There were no funeral services, no embalming, and so everything that needed to be done must be done quickly, before decomposition set in (burial must take place within 24 hours).

The tasks were age-specific and gender-sensitive.

The women cooked for the bereaved, sewed their mourning dresses, prepared betel nuts for the visitors to chew, and washed plates, while the menfolk built the coffin and cut bamboos for the fire. The elders bathed and dressed up the body (male elders for dead men, female elders for dead women).

Dead children were dressed up like saints. The preferred saint for boys was St. Peter, in the hope of gaining easy admission at the gates of heaven.

Meanwhile, the teenagers stayed up all night to keep watch and guard against the magcucutud (or manananggal), the airborne supernatural creatures who stole corpses. They entertained themselves by playing card games like entre siete and pierde y gana or playing the traditional Kapampangan games of caragatan (or bugtungan) and talubangan (or bulaclacan), where the boys played butterflies to the girls' flowers.

The deceased was laid on his bed decorated with hangings (black for an adult, white for a child). If the deceased did not own a bed, he was laid out on a mat (dase or banig) on the floor.

The grieving family would have nothing to do but stay beside the dead to weep (they had less than 24 hours to say their final good-byes). If they had to talk to visitors at all, it should be about the life and legacy of the departed. The children of the deceased were not supposed to play; if they did, old folks warned, they'd go crazy.

Visitors from distant places were required to take some food before going back home. The neighbors, on the other hand, were expected to eat in their respective homes before proceeding to the wake.

In much earlier times ("200 years ago," according to one of Beyer's students in 1915), when a child died, his body was taken to the village where it was exposed for two or three days to let other villagers know who was missing from their tribe.

If the deceased was a male adult, male villagers went to his house bringing different objects that symbolized something, e.g. a jar of water to wash away his sins, seeds or seedlings to perpetuate his good deeds.

A child's corpse was always buried neck-deep while a male adult's corpse only knee-deep, in the belief that the soul of older people needed to get out of this world more quickly. As for dead women, their bodies were just thrown into a pit, because in those days, women were considered unworthy of even a decent burial.

These particular practices eventually faded away, but the rest persisted.

For example, in Macabebe they still do tagulele, an ancient practice that the Bergaño dictionary defined as "the chant of lamentation during a person's wake or burial, relating the bravery of the deceased."

Any form of house cleaning is still prohibited during the wake, or another member of the family might also die. When the coffin is already being carried out of the house, however, it should be followed with sweeping of the floor, to drive away illness and bad spirits.

Some relatives must also stay behind and peep out of the windows as the coffin is being taken out. The deceased person's bed must be discarded by taking it out of the house through a window, to ensure his happiness in the next life and to prevent another death in the family.

During the funeral procession, everyone (not just the family) should be in black and holding lighted candles. The widow and female relatives should wear sucong (long black veils). Rich families spend more to have a punebre (funeral band) and the parish priest accompanying the dead to the cemetery.

In those days when there were still no public cemeteries, the dead were buried in private properties, usually the backyard.

Before burial, relatives younger than the deceased took turns kissing his hand, while the children were held up and passed to waiting arms across the coffin. Everyone threw in a handful of soil as the casket was lowered, but only the gravediggers were permitted to look at it.

In the first two nights after burial, family and friends gathered around a makeshift altar inside the house to pray for the deceased, have bread, sweets and tea or coffee (nothing more), followed by merriment (more caragatan and talubangan).

On the third night, when the soul was believed to come for a brief visit, a seat would be reserved for him at the dining table where ash, instead of food, was put on his plate and covered with cacaricutcha leaves. The soul would be pleased to see this and would reward his loved ones with a passing apparition or even clues to some hidden wealth.

From fourth to eighth nights, only bread, sweets and tea/coffee would be served again to those who participated in the prayer vigils, but on the ninth night (the uacas of the pasiyam), a big dinner was served. Groups of visitors took turns praying for the deceased before proceeding to the dinner table.

The disappearance of these practices today is an indication of how much we have alienated ourselves from our neighbors, unlike our ancestors who could always rely on their kasiping-bale (kapit-bahay) in times of grief and trouble.

Today, our neighborhoods are nothing but rows of island fortresses, fully equipped with amenities so that we don't have to run to those living next door or across the street for help.

Someone once asked Christ, "Who is my neighbor?" More recently, the puppet gang on Sesame Street sang, "Who are the people in your neighborhood?"

Our ancestors knew. Do we?

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on November 02, 2010.