I recently attended the birthday luncheon of a dear friend, a gentleman of old Pampanga, held at a top hotel. The guest list of 50 was entirely old Pampanga and surprisingly enough, entirely affluent. There were none of the newly-prominent arriviste families who currently had the run of the province. Although it was all casual and convivial — it was a luncheon after all — there was that undercurrent of sheer affluence and steely elegance always palpable when a certain class of old Pampanga get together.
It was interesting to note that while all the surnames were old and of exalted ancestry, some lineages stretching back to the 1700s — Hizon, Henson, Lazatin, Singian, Panlilio, de Leon, Escaler, Gonzalez, Nepomuceno, Ocampo, Paras, Salgado, Miranda, Dizon, Sandico, et. al. — their current fortunes were all relatively recently accumulated through new businesses, professions, and transactions: banking, mining, manufacturing, shipping, logistics, exports, information technology, real estate, jewelry, etc.. None of the Pampangos present possessed the traditional agricultural fortunes of their “hacendero” forebears. Those were definitely things of the past: Mount Pinatubo, CARP, NPA / Communism, the 1972 agrarian reform, the Hukbalahap, and the prewar social reforms had rendered irrelevant and collectively eradicated the agricultural, feudal way of life. Several of them of course, still possessed mostly unproductive tracts of land, controlled by expertly convoluted and intractable corporate structures. But they were nothing more than sentimental relics of a forgotten age. To all of those present, the past with all its glories and failures was the past, and the present was “healthier” and much more interesting with fast-paced profits and endless travels worldwide. The descendants of old Pampanga already had new lifestyles: while not exactly “out with the old,” the key words were “new, newer, and newest”!!!
There was a pattern to the maintenance and expansion of all that affluence, and it wasn’t exclusively Pampango. Education was a priority, not only to further the advancement of the young, but also to maintain, expand, and upgrade their social connections. The children were sent to the schools where the children of the other ”good families” were sent. Class lists were requested and perused by eagle-eyed parents and grandparents who identified the ”suitable” friends for their children among their classmates. That meant that they would study, play, and be foolish together as well, thus cementing upcoming business and social relationships. At home, the boys were taught by their fathers the “masculine” chores from basic electricals to vehicle maintenance; the girls were taught by their mothers all the home arts from cooking to cleaning to entertaining in style; laziness was not tolerated under any circumstances. The famed, pristine cleanliness of a Pampango home [ to the point of being a lifeless showcase ] was a point of pride for many good Pampango families. Undergraduate studies were at the Ateneo de Manila, De La Salle, and for the open-minded and adventurous, the University of the Philippines. Also for college and the now-required postgraduate studies, only the top, “Ivy League” universities in the USA would do — Harvard, Yale, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, also Stanford, UC Berkeley, Duke, NYU, Fordham, Georgetown, unless the children wanted to go to Europe and attend Oxford or Cambridge, the Sorbonne, or the Universidad Complutense. Back home, marriage with another Pampango of “good family” was preferred, if only for the obvious reason that the couple’s traditionally discriminating palates would be compatible. The business connections were appreciated but properly reserved for the future. If they decided to marry “outside the race” to a Manileno or even an Ilonggo or a Negrense, then it was understood that the fiance / fiancee was also of “good family.” Marriage to an “unknown” / “desconocido” was unimaginable in the light of one’s “proper” family [ read: rich and conservative ]. Entrepreneurial business activities, even for those employed by multinational corporations, were encouraged for both the husband and the wife. The young were always encouraged to go into business for themselves. Children were well-fed with expensive comestibles to the point of obesity not only for health, but also to show one’s wherewithal to afford the best for their offspring. Perhaps owing to their distant Chinese ancestry, the Pampangos were all too conscious of business and money matters. Despite all the acknowledgments of blood relations, of affectionate regards, of graciousness, it mattered extremely what one’s businesses / corporations [ note the plural! ] and current financial standing were, because as everyone else was of the expected patrician lineage, Money — preferably big, bigger, biggest money — was the only basis for one’s social standing in the community, and with it, the respect accorded by one’s business and social peers.
And those are the values of a discreet Pampango aristocracy which has inexplicably survived to this cyber day and age… outlasting every attempt of rebellion and revolution.