By Robby Tantingco
This week, I urge all Kapampangans in the world—all one million of us—to celebrate Aldo ning Kapampangan (Pampanga Day) by making just one solemn commitment: to be proud of our history and to trust our destiny.
For indeed, we Kapampangans probably got more blessings than other people in this country did, and probably more blessings than we deserve. Our luck should give us enough confidence that we are destined not only to survive but also to prevail.
Ilocanos, for example, got a craggy strip for a homeland, and Visayans got scattered islands and Tagalogs a disorganized territory, but in the case of Kapampangans, God put us all together in one spot and in the best possible location—the central plain of the largest island, protected by mountain ranges on both sides and irrigated by a network of rivers and streams that empty into a bay. From the riches that the land easily yielded, we learned to be more traders than farmers, and developed a cuisine that's unlike any other.
God also gifted us with a beautiful language which the colonizers reconfigured by imposing on it an alien orthography. Instead of withering, our language thrived and even bloomed, producing a sublime literature whose volume and variety invite comparison with that of Elizabethan England.
Surrounded by a sea of different ethno-linguistic tribes, which made us insular in our world-view, we became patriotic and fiercely protective of our independence and way of life, so that when the Spaniards came in 1571, we were the only ones on this island who fought them. The first Filipino to give up his life to preserve his people's freedom—the first stirrings of nationalism—was a Kapampangan.
Our belligerent ancestors were eventually pacified, but in the end, they still outsmarted the enemy—because they proved that Kapampangans could defeat them even in their own turf. When they allowed us to train in their royal army, for example, we became so good that they totally depended on us in their expeditions and military campaigns; they even entrusted the capital city's entire royal army under the care of a Kapampangan (Francisco Laksamana in 1662).
When the Spaniards allowed us to study in their exclusive schools, we turned out to be brighter than they were and soon, the slaves they had thought were only good for cutting timber for their shipyards were graduating as doctors of laws and doctors of sacred theology. The country's first priests, first nuns, first missionaries, first president of the archdiocesan seminary, first woman authors and founders of orphanages and religious congregations— yes, they were all Kapampangans.
As Prof. Randy David puts it, Kapampangans became "the brown bearer of European culture and Enlightenment reason… who did not deserve to be enslaved by a foreign power" because they could beat that foreign power "in all the things by which human achievement is measured—art, education, engineering, philosophy, literature."
All Kapampangans should read the story of Martin Sancho, the Kapampangan who recited the entire catechism (in Spanish!) before an astounded King Philip II in 1587, barely 16 years after the Spaniards landed in Luzon. And he was only 10 years old.
Or the story of Phelippe Songsong of Macabebe, whose sanctity was already so well known while still doing missionary work in Guam, that when he died in 1684 at age 73, the Spanish Governor and military officials of that island carried his coffin on their backs and buried him with all the pomp and pageantry befitting a canonized saint of the Catholic Church..
The Spaniards themselves recognized Kapampangans as unique among the natives. King Charles II of Spain cited Kapampangans and only Kapampangans "for making important contributions to the defence of the entire colony." Fray Gaspar de San Agustin called us "the Castilians of these islands" and invented the formula "one Spaniard plus three Kapampangans equals four Spaniards." Jose Felipe del Pan referred to us as "the loyal companions of our disgraces and of our glories. Kapampangans, and only Kapampangans, were with us in that century of frustrations when we were harassed on all fronts. Brave people!" Juan de Medina wrote that Kapampangans always left their villages to join the army "in a fine appearance, for the villages donate money for their uniforms." Even the British journalist A.P. Thorton wrote in 1762 that the British were amazed by the military skills of Kapampangans, "who repeated the assaults (unlike Indians who fled at the sight of better armed British) and died like wild beasts, gnawing the bayonets." Kapampangans, del Pan wrote, were "the grand curiosity" of the region.
Other Filipinos today mock us for this loyalty, but loyalty was a sentiment expressed by only one sector of Kapampangan society. Another sector consistently expressed another sentiment—rebellion— and these two sentiments and two sectors coexisted throughout history. It is this dichotomy that makes our role in history truly colorful and unique. We were loyal where loyalty was deserved, or necessary, or expedient, and we severed our ties when it was time to do so. In the tradition of that Macabebe chieftain who became the country's first martyr for freedom, Kapampangans rose in arms whenever the conditions outraged their sense of justice, as in their revolts against the encomienda system in 1585, against the unpaid rice supplies in 1660, and finally against the cumulative abuses of the Spaniards in 1896.
Through the years of American colonization and Japanese occupation, Kapampangans— again, ahead of their compatriots in other regions—burned with fervor for social justice. It was Kapampangans who founded the country's first labor union (Union de Chineleros y Zapateros de Filipinos, by Felixberto Olalia in 1920), the socialist party (Partido Sosyalista ng Pilipinas, by Pedro Abad Santos in 1932), the guerilla movement in World War II (Hukbalahap, by Bernardo Poblete in 1942), the communist armed forces (Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan by Casto Alejandrino in 1950 and the New People's Army, by Bernabe Buscayno in 1965), the Kabataang Makabayan (by Nilo Tayag, in 1970) and the National Democratic Front (by Satur Ocampo, with Joma Sison, in 1973).
Warriors and defenders of the poor and the oppressed—this is the true nature and true calling of Kapampangans. God may have pampered us with natural resources and the colonizers may have treated us with favoritism, which gave us a veneer of vanity, conceit and softness, but deep inside, we are intensely altruistic, even heroic, maybe even messianic (which is why we left our Muslim and pagan ways in 1571 to embrace the religion which appealed to us, Christianity) . The boast Queng leon queng tigri e cu tatacut, queca pa? probably comes from the land itself—so beautiful and so vulnerable that we must defend it at all costs.
We nearly lost it all when Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991. Now, in the midst of a cultural renaissance, our provincial and municipal leaders have chosen to waste their energies on a senseless duel-to-the- death that threatens to bring the entire province down with them.
I hope that our province's 436th founding anniversary will be an occasion for them to finally work together, instead of making it yet another battleground for their bitter, senseless fight.