Tripping on History and Culture in Pampanga

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Pampanga was a major destination during our Manila North Luzon Tollways Corporation (MNTC) and North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB) sponsored Lakbay Norte 2.  In fact, almost 3 days of our 6-day media tour were spent in this history and culture rich province with its many Spanish and American era architecture.  After our tiring but rewarding Pinatubo tour, it was back on the road on our special Victory Liner tour bus as we made our way to Angeles City, our first Pampanga destination, arriving at its two-storey Museo Ning Angeles (the former city hall built in 1922) as dinner guests of the Kuliat Foundation.  We were all welcomed by Ms. Herminia Pamintuan, wife of the City Mayor Edgardo Pamintuan; Ms. Joy Cruz and Ms. Prisca Cantor, Special Projects Head and Treasurer, respectively, of the Greater Clark Visitors Bureau (GCVB); and museum curator Ms. Jiji Paras.  Before filling my stomach with the tasty, aromatic and appetizing Kapampangan dishes prepared for us, I took time out to explore the a charming diorama exhibit of Ninay Dolls (created by Patis Tesoro, an Angeleña) showing various episodes of Kapampangan lifestyle (weddings, fiestas, woodcarving, etc.); the evolution of Philippine revolutionary uniforms (1806-1906); a brief history of Angeles through dioramas and photos; and the Hall of Fame, which shows Angeleños who have made significant contributions in their field.

After late evening cocktails sponsored by Ms. Abel Villavicencio of Flying V and an acoustic night out at Island Grill in Clark with Mr. Gabriel “Bing” Sangil and tourism officer Mr. Angel Maniti, we all retired to our rooms at the Clark Star Hotel.  After a rest and recreation stop at Subic, where we enjoyed a round of banana boating and jetskiing (a first for me) courtesy of Networx Jet Sports, and a luxurious overnight stay at Lighthouse Marina Resort, we spent the morning of Day 5 exploring two of Pampanga’s famous churches, one noted for its resiliency in the face of calamity, and the other for its artistic beauty.

At Bacolor, we were met by Mr. Poch Jorolan of the Pampanga Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (PCVB).  The town’s Church of St. William the Hermit, one of the oldest and largest churches in Pampanga, is a survivor.  Probably built in the early 17th century, it has survived damage during the 1645 and 1880 earthquakes, a fire in 1672 as well as heavy damage during the British occupation, being restored each time.  However, the Mt. Pinatubo lahar flows of September 3, 1995 almost did her in, burying the church up to one-half its 12-m. height.  Its 4.9-m. high main entry disappeared. However, this bastion of faith refused to follow the footsteps of the half-buried Cagsawa Church (Albay) and Guiob Church (Camiguin), all victims of the eruptions of Mt. Mayon and Mt. Vulcan Daan respectively. Bacolonians resurrected the altar of the Lady of La Naval from the mud and a new concrete floor was built almost at the level of the windows.  The profusely and intricately-ornamented window of the choir loft now serves as the new main entrance.

We next proceeded to Brgy. Betis in the woodworking (furniture, guitars, pool sticks, etc.) town of Guagua (my late father’s hometown) were we were welcomed by Sangguniang Bayan member Anthony Joseph “Tonton” Torres at the 17th century Church of St. James the Apostle.  The church, honored as a National Cultural Treasure (one of 26) by the National Museum, has a profusely ornamented, two-level, German Baroque façade with decorative, coupled columns and skillfully arranged flora, spirals and intricate curvilinear carvings decorating the projecting portico.  The church’s wooden entrance doors are intricately carved with the Dreams of Jacob from the Old Testament.

Its awe-inspiring interiors are something else.   The huge, elaborate retablo is furnished with authentic icons while spectacular murals of 19th century artist Simon Flores as well as the father-and-son team of Macario and Jose Ligon (finished before World War II) fill the walls.  The interpretation of the Bible is painted on the entire wooden ceiling and the breathtaking trompe l’oeil dome.  At the center of the plaza, fronting the church, is the first artesian well in the Philippines, built by Fr. Manuel Camanes in the late 19th century. Before leaving Guagua, I bought some yema and pastillas as pasalubong.

Hizon-Singian House

Prior to our attending a cooking demo by local culinary expert and historian Lilian “Atching” M.L. Borromeo in Mexico, we made a brief stopover at the provincial capital city of San Fernando where we made a walking tour of a number of Spanish and American-era ancestral houses along A. Consuji St. in  Brgy. Sto. Rosario. The Hizon-Singian House, built in 1870, was occupied during the 1896 revolution by Spanish Gen. Antonio Ruiz Serralde.  During World War II, it was used by the Japanese Imperial Army as a military hospital and barracks (1943-1944) and, during the liberation period until the end of 1945, served as headquarters of 6th Army American Gen. Walter Krueger.

The Lazatin Residence, built in 1925, exemplifies the architecture prevalent during the American colonial period. During World War II, it served as a residence of Japanese Gen. Masaharu Homma. On January 27, 2003, both houses were declared as Heritage Houses by the National Historical Institute.   Other ancestral houses along this street include the Consunji House, the turn-of-the-century, Victorian-style Augusto P. Hizon House and the Pampanga Lodge and Restaurant (the first site of the Pampanga High School when it first opened and, later, of the Harvardian College).

Finally, on my own, I visited the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Fernando, started in 1756 by Fr. Sebastian Moreno and finished by Fr. Mariano Alafont in 1781.  Burned during a big fire in 1939, it was rebuilt in 1950 by Arch. Fernando Ocampo. The church has a Tuscan interior, a round and majestic, Baroque-style dome which rises from the rotunda of the transept, and a four-storey, hexagonal bell tower which tapers up in uneven levels.

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