Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Pampanga: More heritage and cuisine from Pampanga


Day 2 (Saturday)
Even the breakfast served at Holiday Inn was a Kapampangan experience designed especially for the group. On the buffet table were meat products from Pampanga such longganiza, tocino, and pindang damulag.

After breakfast, we brought the group to one of Pampanga’s well kept secrets, Furniture City in Mabalacat, Pampanga, which is a factory complex of furniture exporters and manufacturers. It was a bargain delight for our avid shoppers in every showroom we visited with export-quality furniture made available at dirt cheap factory prices. Among the showrooms visited were those of Vienna Furniture (contemporary and craftsman furniture using local treated wood and other native materials such as sulihya and rattan) and More Than A Chair (classical wood furniture with a touch of modernism, combined with upholstery, rattan, bamboo, leather and a wide choice of local and imported veneer wood), and samples of furniture from Angeles City manufacturer VICO Design (modern eclectic sculptural iron furniture combined with unique painting and texturing, upholstery and resin) and Diretso (run by a Dutch group based here in Pampanga, specializing in modern contemporary upholstered furniture combined with wood and iron), with its factory in Del Rosario, City of San Fernando.

140_4078For lunch, the group trooped to Abe’s Farm Pampanga, the Mt. Arayat hideaway of Larry Cruz, the man behind the successful LJC Group of Restaurants. Journalist turned restaurateur and bon vivant just like his father, the late Pampango writer and painter E. Aguilar Cruz, Larry could be credited to have single-handedly revived the lackluster Remedios Circle in Malate way back in the late 1970s into a chic trendsetting landmark, with his flagship Café Adriatico.

140_4095Greeting us were a variety of appetizers that included Pampanga’s famous garlic peanuts, kilawing tanguingue (skewered fresh tanguingue fillet marinated in palm vinegar), crispy salted baby shrimps, squid tactics (slices of squid quickly fried and sprinkled with brown garlic, green onions and sweet and spicy sauce) and sinuteng hinubarang kuhol (escargots sautéed in olive oil with garlic and chilies). On the menu as well were balo-balo (fermented rice and shrimp) and mustasa, a salad combination of wansoy (coriander), kamatis and quesong puti, and a hearty and invigorating sinuam na mais (corn soup with chili leaves). And for the main course were lechon paella, Mt. Arayat crispy crab (slices of fat crispy crab covered in a mountain of fried garlic), crispy tadyang “D Original” (marinated beef ribs deep-fried to a delicious crispiness), and bamboo rice (rice with bamboo shoots flavored with chicken, shrimp and wood ear mushrooms). Dessert featured a selection of Magalang sweets and fresh fruits.

After lunch, the group proceeded back to the hotel to freshen up and prepare for the afternoon and evening itinerary.

140_4044First on our list was the centuries-old Betis Church in Guagua. Nicknamed the “Sistine chapel of the Philippines” because of its wall ceiling murals, it is the second oldest church in Pampanga and one of the 26 churches declared by the National Museum as national cultural treasures. A two-minute walk from the church is the restored David House, ancestral home of sociologist Randy David, which they christened Bale Pinauid or Bahay Pawid.

Next on our list and a short drive away from Betis was the half-buried San Guillermo Church in Bacolor. Entering what was once the largest church in Pampanga, visitors go in the church through the choirloft windows, and are greeted inside by beautifully restored retablos dug up from several feet of lahar. The citizens of Bacolor take pride in their rich heritage which is why they painstakingly excavated the ornately carved wooden main and side altars which are now back to their pristine condition.

Villa de Bacolor was the capital of Pampanga from 1754 to 1904, and at one time served as the capital of the Philippines from 1762 to 1765 when the British invaded Manila. Once Pampanga’s best preserved heritage town, it was completely buried in lahar in 1995. Today, remnants of Bacolor opulence are now housed in the Museo de La Salle, a “Kapampangan” museum in Dasmariñas, Cavite, where the Santos-Joven-Panlilio house and its contents were transferred before the town was buried by lahar. The museum also contains pieces from the celebrated Arnedo-Gonzales clan from Sulipan, Apalit.

From Bacolor, the group motored to the City of San Fernando, the provincial capital of Pampanga. Downtown San Fernando is home to the city’s historic poblacion which was zoned into a heritage district in 2004 by its Sangguniang Panlungsod. The first stop was the City Hall of San Fernando where the group boarded kalesas that would take them to some of the heritage houses along Consunji Street.

San Fernando is one of the few, if not the only urban area in the country where motorized tricycles are prohibited from entering the town proper. This is why the kalesa is still a major means of transportation around.

The first heritage house on the list was the Santos-Hizon House, a turn-of-the-century Victorian-style house built by the couple Teodoro Santos and Africa Ventura. It was later purchased by Maria Salome Hizon, a volunteer of the Red Cross during the Philippine Revolution. The property was acquired by her brother Ramon Hizon and is currently owned by the heirs of his son Augusto Hizon.

A short walk across the street brought the group to the grand Hizon-Singian House. This bahay na bato was declared a heritage house by the National Historical Institute in January 2003. Currently owned by the heirs of the late businessman and civic leader Gerry H. Rodriguez, the house was built in 1870 by the couple Don Anacleto Hizon, gobernadorcillo of San Fernando from 1877-1879 and 1886-1887, and Victoria Singian de Miranda y de Ocampo. It was later occupied during the 1896 revolution by Spanish General Antonio Ruiz Serralde, appropriated by the Japanese Imperial Army to serve as a military hospital and barracks from 1943 to 1944, and served as headquarters of American General Walter Krueger of the 6th American Army during the liberation period until the end of 1945.

At the Hizon-Singian House, cocktails were served featuring an exciting array of Kapampangan inspired hors d’oeuvres and drinks created by Kai chef Gilbert Pangilinan, himself a true-blue Fernandino. Pica-pica included tocino, brown rice and itlog na maalat stuffed in tomato, chicharon Guagua with atchara, kilayin baboy on bananas, and gatas damulag rice with hipon.

Serenading the guests were members of ArtiSta. Rita, a Kapampangan cultural group headed by Whiplash and Miss Saigon choreographer Andy Alviz, who transformed the ambiance in the centuries-old house into a that of a turn-of-the-century party. The group had successfully released a CD of Kapampangan music with a second one to be launched very soon.

After the well-received musical presentation, the group again boarded their kalesas that took them to the last stop for the night, the charming Lazatin House, another of San Fernando’s NHI-declared heritage houses. Built in 1925 by the couple Serafin Lazatin y Ocampo, sugar farmer and former president of SFELAPCO, and Encarnacion Singian y Torres, the house was appropriated by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War to serve as a residence of the 14th Army Commander of the Japanese Imperial Army, General Masaharu Homma, in San Fernando, Pampanga.

140_4062Behind the house was an air-conditioned function hall which was stylishly decorated with local flora enhanced by long garlands of fragrant sampaguita, the perfect setting for the candle-lit sit-down banquet featuring dishes from all over Pampanga prepared by Pangilinan and the kitchens of Kai. On the menu was lumpiang papayang hubad, pako salad, chicharong bulaklak, pindang damulag, paksiw na pata, lengua, morcon, alimango in taba ng talangka, lagat kamias at hipon, and fried hito with buro.

To cap the evening, the best desserts were ordered from all over Pampanga which included the popular tibok-tibok (made of pure carbao’s milk, this is Pampanga’s version of maja blanca), plantanilla (sweetened coconut rolled in egg crepes) from the Dayrit-Santos famil y, tocino del cielo(a richer version of leche flan) of the Lazatin clan, sansrival and ube halayan.

Day 3 (Sunday)
After being served another array of traditional Kapampangan delicacies for breakfast such as tamales and suman bulagta from Cabalantian in Bacolor, the gargantuan ensaymadas of San Fernando (which have a diameter of about 8 inches) topped with shredded queso de bola, and empanadang kuliat, the group went for a scenic helicopter tour of Mt. Pinatubo’s crater.

For some last minute shopping, the group passed by the showroom of AWECA Weavers International (Pampanga’s leading wicker furniture and basket manufacturers and exporters) in Pulung Bulo, Angeles City. Clients of the company include Marks & Spencer, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom and Macy’s.

Lunch was at the C Italian Restaurant by Chris Locher along Fields Avenue. As columnist Amado Doronilla describes the place, "Be adventurous, expect the unexpected, and you will not be disappointed in this exceptional Italian Restaurant."

Fields Avenue is actually home to an array of international cuisine to suit every fancy. If you are adventurous and if you have the time, one should try out the many restaurants along this street.

After the exciting Italian lunch, it was off to Manila. The weekend adventure may have ended, but Pampanga continues to beckon to everyone, with more adventures waiting to be discovered. Now that it is just 45 minutes away from Manila along the North Luzon Expressway, Pampanga is now a very accessible mainstream tourism destination. Other tour options include a river cruise along the Rio Grande de Pampanga where one can simply enjoy nature or visit the centuries-old churches that dot the river banks, go angling or even kayak in the mangroves of Masantol. For more information, you can e-mail Pampanga Heritage Tours at cityofsanfernando@gmail.com or call the Center for Kapampangan Studies as (045) 6259620/8888691 loc. 1311.


Boating in the mangroves of Masantol, Pampanga: myself, my kabatch Mark Jomalesa, and UP Maroons players Marvin Cruz and Kenneth Robin in Feb 2004

Monday, June 06, 2005

Pampanga: Relishing Pampanga’s elegance




With the rehabilitation of the North Luzon Expressway, driving to Pampanga from crowded Metro Manila is now a breeze. However, its close proximity to Manila has for several years been its disadvantage since vacation-seekers usually pass it off as too close a place to visit or simply a stopover area rather than a destination of choice. That is why we decided to dish up a Kapampangan adventure for a group of urban denizens that exuded Pampanga’s old elegance and charm. The result was a Pampanga culinary and heritage weekend fit for a king!

Day 1 (Friday)
Straight from their Makati offices, the group arrives at the Center for Kapampangan Studies in Holy Angel University, Angeles City for a brief introduction on Pampanga. Welcoming them were heralds’ announcements resonating from traditional carabao horn tambulis, signaling that their Pampanga sojourn had just begun. This was followed by music from a brass band and rondalla, regular fixtures in Kapampangan fiestas and celebrations.

A museum, archives, library, research center and theater rolled into one, the Center for Kapampangan Studies was put up by Holy Angel University in 2002 to preserve, study and promote Kapampangan history and culture. To give a brief introduction on Pampanga culture and cuisine, we invited none other than the concurrent Chair of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts and National Historical Institute, himself a Kapampangan and an authority on the Pampanga cuisine, Prof. Ambeth R. Ocampo.

During his short lecture, Ambeth mentions the Kapampangan penchant to eat almost anything, as seen from traditional favorites such as betute (stuffed deep-fried frog), camaru (mole crickets), buro (fermented rice and fish), pindang damulag (pickled carabao meat), and taba ng talangka. To prove his point Ambeth quips that migratory birds from China made the biggest mistake of landing in Pampanga. Need we mention why?

Kapampangan cuisine saw a golden age of development during the Spanish colonial period since the province of Pampanga was Manila’s major supplier of food and produce. This abundance had created an array of rich and savory dishes resulting from the Kapampangan cook’s meticulous selection of only the best and freshest ingredients available. And thus were the legendary banquets in places such as Sulipan in Apalit which saw visits from the Grand Duke of Russia and the Prince of Cambodia.

To begin the culinary experience was dinner at the residence of renowned artist, chef and food and travel columnist for Philippine Star, Claude Tayag. His home is an attraction itself, a product of his creative juices, which had been featured in numerous coffee table books on Philippine architecture and style. One can find there as well, a little shop where Claude sells copies of his prints, his bottled food products such as buro and taba ng talangka, and miscellaneous household items. The house is sometimes referred to as Bale Dutung or Bahay na Kahoy.

Welcoming us were various fruit juices and sisig which was cooked right before us. A selection of appetizers followed which included Guagua longganiza and chicharon, burung mangga (pickled mangoes) and taba ng talangka paté with pandesal toasts. For the main course, was a selection of ensaladang pako (fiddlehead fern salad), piniritong lumpiang ubod with lettuce roll, mole (traditional pig’s trotters stew with chorizo), and Claude’s special paella montañosa cooked with red mountain rice. And to cap off the night were Kapampangan favorites such as buko sherbet, sansrival, and Claude’s signature dessert, paradiso - an assortment of camote, ube and macapuno laid on a bed of sweet sauce.

After the opening salvo of savory dishes, the group then to proceeded to Holiday Inn Resort, Clark Field where we were to stay for the weekend.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Quezon & Laguna: Viva San Isidro Labrador!

May 15 is an important day in three towns of Quezon Province, namely Lucban, Tayabas and Sariaya. It is the feast day of San Isidro Labrador, and each town commemorates this day with their own unique celebration. Our plan was to visit Lucban in the morning and Tayabas in the afternoon. But a twist of fate would make the trip more exciting and worthwhile.

I left Manila with some photographer friends at 3 a.m. Early you say? I was told that by 6 a.m., it would be difficult to enter the town since people really come in droves to witness the Pahiyas, one of the more famous festivals in the country. If you are familiar with Discovery Channel's The Travellers, it was the festival they featured when the Philippines was in focus.

We arrived in Lucban shortly before 6 a.m. and finding parking was already a big challenge! The streets were so narrow and you had vehicles parked on both sides. Finally we found a parking space and from there we took a walk to the Lucban Church where Mass was about to begin. Although Lucban is known for the San Isidro fiesta, the church is actually dedicated to San Luis Obispo.

Pahiyas is a thanksgiving festival for a good harvest, where residents of Lucban dress up their homes with produce, flowers and plants, hats, and brightly-colored kiping, rice paste wafers shaped like leaves. Pahiyas actually means "decor" which is an apt term for the elaborate, lavish and imaginative house decorations created for the festival. After the Mass, at 7 a.m., the procession begins and the images of San Isidro Labrador and his wife, Santa Maria Torribia de la Cabeza, are brought around the decorated homes, accompanied by a marching band, to assure farmers of more bountiful harvests in the coming seasons.

Lucban is also known for its longganiza and weaving trade. That's why it is famous for hats. And I bought a lot of them! Hehe! I like wearing the haciendero hat which Lucban is known for when I'm in formal or semi-formal attire and I know that I'll be out in the sun for quite a while.

After three hours of walking around, we decided to move to Tayabas. Although we planned to be there at 3 p.m. in time for the hagisan ng suman which I will discuss later. We drove out of the town only to realize that we took the wrong route, and had to re-enter the town to go to Tayabas.

Since the traffic was really bad, going back in Lucban was out of the question. Taking a longer route would have been more practical than driving in traffic. At least we could see more. The first option was to go via Mauban. But the sight of a dirt road discouraged us since the prospect of driving my car on approximately 50 km of dirt road was unimaginable! So the next option was the route via Laguna which would literally take us around Mount Banahaw. Since there were a lot of attractions along the way, there was a lot to look forward to.

First stop was the town of Majayjay, Laguna. Before we reached the town, we stopped by a bridge along the way to take photos of the scenery. We went to Majayjay to visit the Church of San Gregorio Magno, one of the 26 colonial churches declared by the National Museum as National Cultural Treasures.

After Majayjay, we drove past Liliw, a town known for its slippers, and proceeded to Nagcarlan which is most known for the Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery, declared by the National Historical Institute as a National Landmark. Our first stop in town was its centuries-old Church of San Bartolome. The church itself is an NHI-declared historical site.

Just a short drive past its charming town presidencia and waterworks fountain, was the underground cemetery, the only one of its kind in the Philippines. Maybe the Franciscan friars who created this structure wanted to replicate the catacombs of Rome!

I was astounded by the brick fence as the design was very Asian, and made me feel as if I were somewhere else. It actually reminded me of the royal tombs in Hue, Vietnam. It's a pity we could not take photos inside. Flash photography contributes to the decay of the site. But even if your flash is turned off, they won't allow it. I guess it's a general rule for generally hardheaded Filipinos. Hehe!

From Nagcarlan, we drove towards San Pablo where we decided to have lunch. Since it was already 1 p.m. and scorching hot at that, we decided not to take photos anymore and move on to Tayabas since we might miss the procession. From San Pablo, we drove past Tiaong to Sariaya. We had no intentions of stopping. But the sight of elegant and huge art deco houses was just irresistable! We were not disappointed.

The architectural heritage of this town was previously unknown to me until I saw it. It was nothing but astounding! The houses were a result of the coconut boom during the First World War when coconut oil was a sought after commodity in the global market. As a result, Sariaya became a very prosperous town. And this is evident in the art deco houses that dot the area around its town plaza. Aside from being intricate and well-preserved, they are numerous!

Some of the houses were opened to visitors for the May 15 celebration. There was an entrance fee of P20 per house, the proceeds of which went to Tuklas Sariaya, the local heritage conservation organization of the town. The heritage houses, coupled with the monumental art deco municipal hall, plaza, and church with its two conventos (the one on the left was definitely built during the Spanish colonial period), indeed make Sariaya rank among our best-preserved heritage towns which include Vigan, Ilocos Sur; Taal, Batangas; Silay, Negros Occidental; Pila, Laguna; and San Miguel de Mayumu, Bulacan. Bacolor, Pampanga would have been in this list had it not been covered by lahar in 1995.

The local celebration in Sariaya is called Agawan. And just like Lucban, the houses are adorned with fruits and vegetables, rice stalks, hats, fans and brooms, sans the kiping. The festival is a way for the townsfolk to share their blessings. After the procession of the image of San Isidro, the agawan begins as the items used to decorate the house are thrown to the crowd on the street.

It was now off to Tayabas after that "refreshing" stop under the hot summer sun. And we arrived just in the nick of time since the procession was about to start!

Cheers were heard from the plaza as the image of San Isidro Labrador was brought out, carried by devotees in this all-male procession. I would consider it a much smaller yet livelier version of the Quiapo procession. What makes this procession a unique part of the Mayohan sa Tayabas, the Tayabasin celebration of the feast of San Isidro, is the hagisan ng suman. As the image passes a house, suman is thrown by its dwellers. Devotees then rush to catch the falling suman which drops from the sky like rain. It is believed that the more suman one catches, the bigger the harvest for the coming season. So expect to be shoved when the suman starts to fall, as I was shoved while taking photos! Try to stay away from the suman if you don't want to get pushed. Hehe!

After the procession, we took photos of the Basilica Minore of St. Michael the Archangel, another of the churches declared as National Cultural Treasures. Other attractions in Tayabas include the Casa Comunidad, a National Landmark, and its stone bridges.

We called it a day at 4 p.m. and decided to take the Lucban route to Manila seeing that the Sariaya route was already clogged. Lucban was 10 km away and it was moving fast. But just as we got close to the town proper, everything just stopped. After 30 minutes, we decided to turn back and use the Sariaya route instead. When we entered Tayabas, the procession, which had been moving around town for three hours now, was about to cross the street. And we had no choice but to go via Lucena.

On the way to Lucena, we saw this quaint old chapel. And as always, we stopped to take photos. It was then that we decided to try to find the Malagonlong Bridge, a landmark which Tayabas is known for, as our final stop for the day. After asking around, we found out that this charming stone bridge was along the road to Mauban, Quezon, the road we tried to avoid! Hehe! Being adventurous, we decided to visit the bridge and go home to Manila via Mauban, thus circumventing Lucban traffic.

The bridge was a indeed sight! If not for the new bridge constructed beside it, it would have been nothing but perfect! We went down to the river to take better shots of it. We were literally on stepping stones in the middle of the river. Anything for good shots! Hehe!

As it was getting dark and not knowing what was ahead, we decided to take the Sariaya route again. Maybe the traffic was much lesser since the festivities were over. But as we were about to exit Lucena, it was a standstill again, and three lanes tried to squeeze themselves into one! Oh you know how Filipino drivers are, illegal counterflows and shoulder driving just to get ahead! I was just too exhausted so we decided to have dinner at SM City Lucena.

We left at 9 p.m. hoping there would be no more jam. But traffic was still slow. At least it was moving this time. To make the long story short, we got back in Manila close to 12 midnight. I had been driving for almost 24 hours. But it was worth it. All I could do when I got home was sleep!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Baguio: Restoring Baguio's old charm

Just got back from Baguio where the Heritage Conservation Society attended the turnover of the restored Baguio Central School Building. In our group was HCS President Gemma Cruz-Araneta, Arch. Jojo Mata, Arch. Melvin Patawaran and Carmen Prieto of the Dagupan City Heritage Commission.

Baguio City is the only hill station in the Philippines. According to Wikepedia, "a hill station in Southeast Asian and South Asian countries, particularly India and Pakistan, is a high-altitude town used, especially by European colonialists, as a place of refuge from the summer heat. Several hill stations served as summer capitals of Indian provinces, princely states, or, in the case of Simla, of British India itself."

Famous hill stations include Simla and Darjeeling in India, and Cameron Higlands in Malaysia, Bandung and Bogor in Indonesia, Dalat in Vietnam, and May Myo in Myanmar. It looks like the Spanish were not into hill stations since it was the Americans who established the first and only hill station in the country, which became the summer capital, the City of Baguio.

Anyway, we left Manila at about 12 midnight on Friday the 13th of May in order to get to Baguio in time for the lunch inauguration, with a few hours of rest in between. In Baguio, we stayed at the Prieto Compound thanks to our host, Carmen Prieto. We slept for a few hours after arriving and left for Baguio Central School at about 11 a.m.

Officiating the turnover ceremonies was DepEd Secretary Butch Abad and Undersecretary for Finance Mike Luz, and local DepEd officials. Also in attendance were the mayor, vice-mayor and City Council of Baguio, teachers, as well as the alumni of Baguio Central School. Spirits were high and you can see from the teachers and alumni that they were indeed proud of the restored building. I'm excited since Pampanga High School is the next on the list of the buildings that DepEd will restore.

After the ceremonies, we went back to sleep. I guess all of us were just tired. But I woke up a little earlier than everyone since I went around with a SSEAYP friend who was a former City Councilor of Baguio when he was SK President. Aside from catching up, we discussed the possibility of creating a heritage ordinance for Baguio so that we could protect the remaining patches of heritage areas scattered around the city. One of the features of the ordinance would be the requirement of the green and white color that is distinctively Baguio. Looking at Baguio from Kennon Road for example is an eyesore! Imagine if all these houses where white (or at times brown) with green roofs! That would be indeed charming! Like the white and blue houses in the Mediterranean, these unsightly mountain homes would now blend with the environment they altered.

Just to give everyone an idea of the importance of Baguio to our national heritage, here's the petition which went around...

We believe that the City of Baguio is culturally, environmentally and aesthetically unique and different from other cities in the Philippines. We believe that Baguio is the nerve center of four rich and diverse cultures: the Filipino culture in general, the highland Cordilleran culture, the lowland Ilocano culture, and the heritage culture brought about by the Americans during the early 20th Century. We believe that in the past two decades, the City of Baguio has experienced a substantial degradation of its unique culture, environment and art. We believe that the approval of certain politicians with no respect for the aesthetics and the environment of Baguio to put up concrete structures such as malls, overpasses and flyovers only worsens Baguio City's lamentable decay as a "City of Pines." We believe that this overdevelopment and resulting pollution have to stop. We believe that due to its unique history and blend of cultures, Baguio can be to the Philippines as Barcelona is to Spain, Chiang Mai is to Thailand, and San Francisco is to the United States: a main center of arts, culture, philosophy, education, tourism, sustainable development and environmental awareness. We believe, therefore, that the City of Baguio deserves to be declared a "Special Heritage Zone," so that the degradation brought about by overdevelopment can be minimized and gradually controlled. We believe that Baguio City's heritage as a center of culture and environmental awareness is a valuable asset not just to the Philippines, but also to the world. We now respectfully call on the residents of Baguio and the Filipino people to sign this humble petition, and for the local and national governments concerned to implement and declare Special Heritage status on this unique mountain City as soon as possible, preferably before the Baguio Centennial in 2009, so no further destruction on its limited cultural, environmental and aesthetic resources may continue.

If you want to sign it as well, you can visit the Baguio Heritage Petition. One thing the petition forgot to mention was the fact that Baguio was cosntructed by Japanese workers at the turn of the past century. That's why many of Baguio's original residents have Japanese blood!

The next day, we went down to San Fabian, Pangasinan to meet Mayor Libunao who had invited the HCS to take a look at the old municipal hall and suggest plans for its restoration and adaptive reuse. I hope mayors thought this way before they considered demolishing an old building. It reminds me of Lito Atienza's penchant for destroying heritage structures. Does the Sky Lounge ring a bell?

We arrived in Manila at 10:00 p.m. giving me just 5 hours to rest before my next trip. Good thing I wasn't driving so I was able to sleep on the way back.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Ka Luis M. Taruc (June 21, 1913 - May 4, 2005)

I was deeply saddened to receive a text message from the phone of Ka Luis Taruc. He had just passed away and his assistant had informed me of the sad news using his phone. This biographic sketch was taken from the Aldo ning Kapampangan 2001 Souvenir Program. December 10, 2001 was the first time I got to meet Ka Luis. We were both Most Outstanding Kapampangan Awardees that year, he for social justice and I for youth leadership. Despite our close to sixty-six years age difference, I learned a lot from Ka Luis during the few times we met or spoke with each other on the phone. The last time we met was when he asked me to speak at a gathering for the anniversary of the Hukbalahap where I spoke about reconstructing the house of Pedro Abad Santos. Sadly, we never got it done. We have indeed lost a great part of our history.

Luis Taruc
Social Justice

The great patriot and former Huk Supremo Luis Taruc at 88, is a picture of a man who never yielded to foreign aggression.

Luis Taruc of San Luis, Pampanga is not only an important historical figure in the province but of the nation as well. Accounts of his contribution to the Filipinos' endless fight for freedom and his achievements in promoting social justice, as champion of the common man, are countless, if not unequaled.

As the founder of the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap) who fought the Japanese invaders, he helped the smooth and speedy liberation of the country from the alien forces.

History reveals that the great majority of Philippine people mounted a remarkably effective resistance to the Japanese occupation, particularly through the leadership of Luis Taruc.

Investigations after the war showed that 260,000 Filipinos had been actively engaged in guerilla organizations and an even larger number operated covertly in the anti-Japanese underground.

The largest guerilla organization, Hukbalahap (People's Anti-Japanese Army) had armed some 30,000 guerillas who controlled most of Luzon.

The cornerstone of Luis Taruc's movement was land reform, as well as industrialization.

A US Army study corroborated this idea, saying that Huks' "main impetus was peasant grievances, not Leninist designs."

According to Leslie E. Bauzon during her (sic) delivery of the conceptual framework for the study and teaching of history at the 2nd National Conference on the Teaching of Philippine and Asian History and Culture in UP Diliman on April 12 to 16, 1999, the Huk revolution from 1947 to 1954 led by Luis Taruc had been a great catalyst to Filipino elites and anti-peasant groups.

"I am referring to the Huk revolution - even if it failed I would still classify it as a revolution since it aimed at fundamental social change - led by Luis Taruc. The Huk revolution stemmed from the age-old problem of caciquism or landlordism in the Central Plain of Luzon, from deterioration of tenancy conditions, from usurious moneylending practices that reduced landless tenants to debt peonage, and from the impoverishment that tenant farmers wanted to do away with," Bauzon said.

Due to his effective clamor for social change, Luis Taruc, and several other reformists were later elected to the newly-formed Filipino Congress (three to the Senate and seven to the House). But they were not allowed to take their seats due to unsupported allegations that coercion had been used to influence votes.

He went back to the mountains as a rebel, fought for democratic ideals, and advocated a new deal for the masses that remained under an exploitative socio-political system.

Then President Ramon Magsaysay convinced him to lead his Huk forces to a new way of life, with promises of social reforms, peace, and a vision for the poor.

Taruc left the hills, joined Magsaysay and from then, never stopped his original patriotic advocacy, his love of freedom and independence, and his hatred of colonial exploitation and oppressive policies.

He is a Pampanga hero in his own right, no less patriotic and proud than the Abad Santos brothers, Ninoy Aquino, and those who fought foreign oppression and justice.
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