One of the best things in life is to be able to help the less fortunate and yet have fun in the process. That was what the MRMF Mother Rosa Memorial Foundation of the Assumption College did last Saturday, 26 April 2008 to raise funds for the Assumpta Technical School in San Simon, Pampanga. Charitable Assumption alumnae and their friends contributed Php 2,500.00/xx each and went on a discovery tour of Pampanga…
One could ask: What can be seen in Pampanga??? Lahar??? What else??? It’s warm and dusty. There are no white sand beaches like Palawan and Boracay, no five-star resorts like Amanpulo and Discovery Shores Boracay, no diving or snorkeling, no surfing or wakeboarding, no top international shops like Hermes, Bulgari, Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, et. al.., no celebrated chichi restaurants and bars like at Greenbelt IV and V and Serendra, Nada!!! True!!! But Pampanga has so much more than mere consumerism. The province is undeniably rich with history, culture, traditions, quality education, fine and decorative arts, culinary expertise, and so much more. Pampanga the province has the ever elusive qualities of wonder, depth, and soul. And it was that Pampanga that the generous Assumption alumnae and their friends sought to discover that day…
The fundraising MRMF Pampanga Tour was planned by A-MRMF president Rosalie “Salie” Henson- Naguiat, former A-MRMF president Josefina “Nening” Pedrosa-Manahan and former A-MRMF Jacqueline “Jackie” Cancio-Vega. Angeli Ko of KulTours was consulted for logistics. And I was consulted for the “off-the-beaten-track” itinerary.
Included in the tour group were “Connie” Carmelo-Pascal, “Angie” Barrera, Mary Garlicki-Moorani, Asuncion “Nonny” Carlos, Marietta Cuenco-Cuyegkeng, Victorina “Chichi” Litton Laperal, Anna Aguirre-Pamplona, “Ching” Singson Abad Santos, “Gigi” Lacson Lacson, “Mabek” Lichaytoo-Kawsek, “CJ” Junterreal, “Gina” Gozum, Dr. Gaudencio “Boy” Vega, ADB executive Victor Yon, et. al..
Petron gas station, northbound NLEX.
JDN CKS HAU The Juan D. Nepomuceno Center for Kapampangan Studies at the Holy Angel University, Angeles City.
The Assumption alumnae were very impressed with the JDN CKS Juan D. Nepomuceno Center for Kapampangan Studies in particular and with the Holy Angel University in general.
Henson mansion, Angeles City.
Chow Time!!! Salie Henson-Naguiat had prepared a wonderful spread.
Dr. Jose “Jojo” Valencia, Dolores, San Fernando.
The group eagerly descended on “Nathaniel’s” along the Olongapo-Gapan road and bought boxes upon boxes of the store’s famous chilled ”Buko Pandan” [ with carabao's milk ] dessert for their “buko pandan fix” and every other goody displayed that seized their fancy.
Archdiocesan Museum, University of the Assumption, San Fernando. I became very irritated with the rude security guards because they passed us from one gate to the other and would not let us in. As if the university was the gold-laden Fort Knox in Texas. I sneered: “You passed me from ‘Papa gate’ to ‘Mama gate’ to ‘Baby gate’!!! Whothehell do you think I am, ‘Goldilocks’???!!!” *LOLSZ!!!* Later on, I was told that the ladies inside the bus were also wondering aloud about what was going on…
However, we all forgot the travails of the university gates when we beheld the sheer magnificence of the collection of the Archdiocese of Pampanga. Absolutely marvelous!!! The curator and concurrently the parish priest of Santa Rita, Pampanga, Monsignor Gene Reyes, was a kind gentleman who took the trouble of explaining every object in the collection that we found interesting, which was mostly everything!!!
I was able to request my dear friend, the artist Alberto “Albert” Salgado Paloma — a first cousin of the legendary jeweler Erlinda “Liding” Salgado Miranda-Oledan — to open his beautiful, faultlessly elegant home to us. It is to me, the Filipino version of the legendary tastemaker Roderick “Rory” Cameron at “Le Clos de Fiorentina” above the French Riviera, without the sea of course.
Albert, in his characteristic high style, had ordered his staff to prepare an elegant Kapampangan “merienda” for us. And what a chic and stylish “merienda” it was!!!
The ladies enjoyed every minute at Albert Paloma’s. It was as if they never left their houses in Forbes Park or Dasmarinas Village.
After Albert Paloma’s, some of the group members and I crossed B. Mendoza street to get our orders of traditional large ”ensaimadas” from [ my great- grandaunt ] Lola Beatriz Rodriguez, who temporarily lives in a priest friend’s house after the old Rodriguez mansion in Bacolor was inundated by lahar. The group members were absolutely delighted to meet Lola Beatriz, who was already 98 years old but still healthy and alert.
Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, Cabetican, Bacolor. We made a quick stop to make our “first visit” prayers and requisite three wishes at this popular Marian shrine where many petitions are said to have been granted. We were efficiently out of there in ten minutes flat!!!
Betis church. It was a beautiful church with many artistic details but we were not able to appreciate it as much as we would have wanted as it was already late afternoon and there were no lights inside. We requested some people chatting in the convent to turn on some lights but they replied nonsensically that there was no electrical connection or something equally silly. We were able to enter the sacristy and admire the magnificent 18th century “vestuario” vestry cabinet, “aparador” cabinet, and “dinemonyo” “mesa altar” altar table. It was a good thing we had already seen all of that before the security guard entered the church and, not knowing who we were or what we were doing for charity, wanted to shoo us away. So I didn’t feel the least bit guilty when, in our rush to leave, we completely forgot to leave our envelope with a generous donation to the church.
After Betis church, we visited the absolutely enchanting David ancestral house, which Salie Henson-Naguiat had arranged for us. Atty. Dante David showed us around his family’s restored and renovated 1904 Filipino house. Many of us particularly liked the antique-style, carved wooden brackets with peacock designs at the ceiling of the main floor.
The restored ancestral house had such a lovely garden. It seemed to be the work of a top landscape artist until Atty. David told us that they actually did it themselves!!!
The ladies peeked inside a garden pavilion being used as a [ not at all! ] “dirty” kitchen and giggled when they saw that the tablecloth was the very pattern of their beloved “Assumption plaid” uniform. Also, the ladies very much appreciated the very clean and contemporary bathrooms of the house.
N. Cayanan, antique “agente,” Betis.
And so, as the sun quickly set on the horizon, the group set out for the border town of Apalit…
The funniest, wackiest, and most outrageous part of the tour happened when we reached Apalit town at 7:00 p.m.. Jackie Vega had secured an appointment with Ellen Ramirez, a known Apalit decorative arts manufacturer, whom she had met at the Manila F.A.M.E. exporters’ show. The address read “Dona Asuncion Village, San Juan, Apalit” which, despite my being an Apaliteno, I didn’t know, so I got down the bus when we reached the back of the Apalit church and inquired with my friends there where “Dona Asuncion Village” was. They laughingly pointed to the town cemetery and said that the big bus would not be able to pass the street going there. OH. UHM…
I got back on the bus and announced to an excited group: “Ladies, we have the thrill of the unexpected!!! We know where ‘Dona Asuncion village’ is. Problem is, it’s located after the town cemetery and the big bus won’t negotiate the street going there. We will have to walk, if ever we proceed. What’s your decision???”
I looked at the ladies. The ladies looked at one another. The ladies looked at me. I looked towards the cemetery!!! The “thought bubbles” on their faces were: ”Shopping… Cemetery… Shopping… Cemetery… Shopping…” And then a unanimous “YES!!! SHOPPING!!!” And they all proceeded to disembark from the bus!!!
It was a scene straight out of an adventure movie: some 35 well-heeled, well-dressed, and well-shod Assumption alumnae happily chatting away as they trod the rough road [ of some 500 meters ], accompanied by excited Apalit children, on the way to Ellen Ramirez, the decorative arts manufacturer, in “Dona Asuncion village” past groups of drunken men, the town cemetery, and young families enjoying the night air. They were amply rewarded when we reached the manufacturer because there were all sorts of stylish, “au courante,” export-quality decorative accessories that could be purchased “in situ.”
Apalit church. We were lucky to find the parish choir in practice so the church lights were all switched on. The ladies marveled at the San Agustin “wannabe” church with its interesting and folksy trompe l’oeil paintings.
I showed the group the beautifully-carved [ Carrara marble ] gravestone of my paternal great grandfather Dr. Joaquin Gonzalez [ 1853 - 1900 ]: a Spanish Augustinian friar’s son; a Paris-trained ophthalmologist who preceded Dr. Jose Rizal; he was the discoverer of “beri-beri” as a disease in the Philippines; and he was one of only two Pampango representatives to the 1898 Malolos Congress [ the other being Jose Rodriguez Infante of Floridablanca ]. I explained that Dr. Joaquin Gonzalez was the great grandfather of such diverse characters whom the ladies knew socially: Elsie Franco-Diaz, Cecilia Gonzalez-Soriano, Fr. Gabby Gonzalez S.J., Annie Gonzalez-Chanco, Romy Rodriguez, Rosemarie Rodriguez-Lopez, Tony de Leon, Marianne de Leon, Bambina de Leon-Herbosa, Jane de Leon-Syjuco, Gia Lopez Gonzalez, Toni Lopez Gonzalez, Mely Gonzalez-Gan, Atty. Renato Gonzalez, Leony Gonzalez, Jerry Gonzalez, Jean Gonzalez-Salvador, Ina Gonzalez-Dizon, May Gonzalez-Benedicto, Minnie Gonzalez Blanco-Abdallah, Gene Gonzalez, moi, Atty. Adolfo Gonzalez, Rocelle Gonzalez-Lizares, Charo Cancio-Yujuico, Arch. Jackie Cancio-Vega, Dr. Vicki Belo, Karen Cancio-Litre, David de Padua, Dr. Donna de Padua, Tweetums Cruz Gonzalez, Noli Gonzalez, Atty. Ging Madrigal Gonzalez-Montinola, BG Gonzalez, Gig Gonzalez, Dr. Jake Jison, and Liel Montinola Gonzalez.
Cacnio house, San Juan, Apalit. I explained to the group that the Cacnio house was the last intact ancestral home in the entire town and the only evidence that Apalit actually possessed a kind of Spanish colonial elegance which has almost entirely disappeared. My dear Espiritu-Arnedo-Mercado relatives Tita Esther Cacnio-Atienza and her daughter Paz came all the way from their Manila residence to welcome the MRMF group to their beautiful ancestral home in Apalit. The MRMF group marveled at the 1850s house, transferred from Malabon to Apalit in 1905, which has survived so many disasters intact, down to the last teaspoon of their ancestors.
The Cacnios prepared a wonderful “pancit luglug” traditionally soured with “kamias” fruit which was a nice counterpoint to all the sweets that we had been eating the whole day!!! There were also those delightful little aniseed “puto” — a type which we used to produce in barrio Capalangan, Apalit years ago. All “gratis” again which we much appreciated because it was like a donation to the MRMF!!! Leading the group in their appreciation of the Cacnios’ warm hospitality, Tita “Nening” Manahan presented “Majestic” ham as a token of gratitude.
And so, in the dark of night, we bravely forged on to old barrio Sulipan in Apalit…
It was already 9:00 p.m. when we arrived in the legendary, once-elegant, definitely-not-patrician-and-sylvan-anymore barrio Sulipan, Apalit, Pampanga…
Arnedo house, Sulipan, Apalit. It was simply too late to bother the gay caretaker to open the ancient house for us.
Saint Peter’s shrine, Capalangan, Apalit. Our delicious, freshly-made Spanish “postres” were locked inside the Espiritu hall behind the gates!!! Aaarrrggghhh!!!
Petron gas station, southbound NLEX.
Some of the ladies were so happy to see Connie Carmelo-Pascal and Mary Garlicki-Moorani — who were trapped for several hours in that frightful traffic between the San Simon and Pulilan exits of the southbound NLEX [ two big trucks had fallen off the viaduct!!! ] — all OK in the ladies’ room. At least, they were safe and finally on the way home!!!
Everyone had already boarded the bus and were raring to finally go home — except for Gigi Lacson. I got down the bus to look for her… She had come from the shops and was walking towards the bus. I waved to her and she waved back. Before we both knew it, a truck passed as she was crossing the pavement, nearly running her over!!! She mock-blamed me for not warning her about the passing truck, but I just smiled and laughed because my tired, tiny eyes really didn’t see the truck coming in the dark…
Back to Quezon City and Makati… We reached Merced bakeshop along EDSA near Quezon Avenue — where the Quezon City group dropped off — at 10:30 p.m. and we reached the Manila Polo Club — where the Makati group disembarked — at 11:30 p.m.!!! Whattaday it had been!!! *LOLSZ!!!*
We had so much fun that we are already planning the next tour!!! Perhaps Laguna, maybe Bulacan, on to Batangas, Ilocos Sur and Abra, Bacolod and Iloilo, and of course, Pampanga part II…
And yes, almost miraculously, but also because of the generosity of sooooo many people, MRMF was able to raise a good amount for the Assumpta Technical School in San Simon, Pampanga…!!!