Alben meng manyaman, boy!

November 25, 2008

Kapampanganovela returns to UP Diliman

Forum on language problems to be held
By Jason Paul Laxamana
Urban Kamaru
Central Luzon Daily

Last semester, a Kapampangan organization in the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman called UP Aguman invited Kalalangan Kamaru and Infomax-8 to talk about regional broadcast media and screen the pilot episode of “Kalam,” the first Kapampanganovela. In spite of the heated debate between so-called nationalists and so-called regionalists, after the screening of “Kalam,” the audience unanimously found the project and the show itself worthy of praise.

This semester, four UP-based organizations—Saligan sa CSSP, UP Aguman, UP Samahang Linggwistika, and STAND UP—team up to hold a bigger forum entitled “Ing Kalam ning Amanung Sisuan” (The Blessing of the Mother Tongue). It will be held on December 9, 2008 from 1 PM to 4 PM at Palma Hall 400. Unlike before, the forum will also feature linguists, experts, and other concerned people to speak about the phenomenon of language shift, language death, and language revitalization

A Closer Look at Philippine Language Problems
(Original Tagalog text by Peter Sengson; English Translation by Laxamana)

At present, there are more than a hundred languages spoken in the Philippines. A number of these are in the brink of being wiped out and it is said that some of the languages of the country of the world are about to die without even being studied or documented. Just what are the conditions that cause language death?

In the Philippines, the Kapampangan language, which is one of the major languages of the archipelago, has been experiencing a decline in its number of speakers. Current speakers of the language are also gradually abandoning it and it is feared that death would be its fate. What are the internal problems that led to this situation? What is being done by the Kapampangans to salvage their mother tongue? What kind of Kapampangan are they trying to revitalize: purist or liberal?

According to some language advocacy groups, the appointment of Filipino as national language is a major cause in the hazard faced by other languages in the Philippines. How did the Filipino language affect the perception of Kapampangans in their own tongue? Is there really a conflict between Filipino and the languages of the regions? What is the possible future of the Philippine languages given the government's campaign for using English as medium of instruction?

These are the questions to be answered in this forum. It aims to introduce linguists, as well as scholars from other disciplines of social science, to the country’s language predicaments. Professors in the field of linguistics, Filipino, and Kapampangan will share their analyses in this issue. Resource speakers from groups attempting to revitalize Kapampangan will also be invited to share their experiences.

The highlight of the program is the screening of the first Kapampanganovela, “Kalam.” After the discussions, an open forum will follow. Linguistics students, especially those enlisted in Sociolinguistics, are expected to attend, as well as other students from the college, professors, and other organizations. The forum is open to everyone who is willing to take part.

Please send reactions to

November 21, 2008

Sta Rita's Joseph Bitangcol strips and turns gay!

Joseph Bitangcol strips his clothes and turns homosexual
Career Overview of the Kapampangan teen star from Sta. Rita

On June 15, 1991, lahar buried a great deal of Central Luzon, especially Pampanga where the volcanic titan Mt. Pinatubo lies beside it, along with the rest of the Zambales mountain range. Lots of properties were destroyed, causing Kapampangan families to flee for their lives and make a choice between returning to their ash-slammed homeland after the catastrophe and finding residence somewhere else.

Years ago, I participated as one of the production assistants of the TV show ‘Maalaala Mo Kaya’. While Joross Gamboa was the lead actor of the episode, I was delighted to hear that a Kapampangan teen star was also in the cast: Joseph Bitangcol.

Ninu ya?

Joseph Mabalay Bitangcol is one of the top ten finalists of the ABS-CBN’s reality hit Star Circle Quest years ago. While many of the young Star Circle Questors freely admit that they entered the contest with the hope of eventually being able to help their families, compared to most, Bitangcol’s story stands out as one of the hardest struggles in the group.

Hailing from Sta. Rita, Pampanga, Joseph never really planned to enter show business, but the Mt. Pinatubo explosion changed his life forever. Fleeing from Pampanga and Pinatubo's wrath in a tricycle driven by their father, the Bitangcol family landed in Pasig with nothing but what they had in their tricycle.

While living his post-eruption life in the Metro, he joined in ABS-CBN's acting workshops, where he developed his performing skills and took further interest in acting. For a time, he became one of ABS-CBN's valued teen stars and was also linked with fellow Questor Sandara Park, who has abandoned the country and went to seek for stardom in her homeland Korea.

When I encountered Joseph face to face at the set of ‘Maalaala Mo Kaya,’ I waited for the right time to approach him and throw some questions. Both he and I were Kapampangan, and I was certain that that would be enough to establish some connection between the two of us. After shooting a certain scene which was sort of distant from the waiting area of actors, I was given the task by the Assistant Director of walking Joseph back to the waiting area.

While walking, I wasn't the one who started conversation. Probably to break the ice, he friendlily asked me what my business was in the production. After knowing that I was just there as an unpaid volunteer production assistant for the sake of practical learning, I segued into telling him my plans of devoting my filmmaking career to stuff with Kapampangan content. From then on, we began talking casually in our good old Amanung Sisuan, Kapampangan.

He speaks the language very well, in spite of not living anymore in Sta. Rita. He also was delighted to hear that I was making Kapampangan productions. By that, I hope he means he could be tapped one day to participate in our activities where his skill would be of definitely great use – being a fairly talented and good-looking actor (looks like an actor in one of those Chinovelas or J-Doramas), an above average hip hop dancer, and, most importantly, a fluent Kapampangan speaker.

Actually, he had this statement which made my eyebrows secretly raise. He told me that the Pinatubo eruption was like a blessing in disguise, for if it did not happen, he couldn't have been the star that he is now.

In my head, I was asking: “How could you consider something tragic – families blown away from their motherland, infrastructure and farms swallowed by lahar, and provincial economy restarted from scratch – a blessing?”

Yes, he became a star because of that, but should you think only of yourself? However, I understand his train of thought. If I became rich myself after the lahar, I would be considering the catastrophe an intervention of my personal fairy mother. But looking at the lives lost, I, too, would be thinking, “In return, I have to help them rise from the volcanic ashes.”

Joseph, judging from our short encounter in the set of a TV show, honestly seems to be a nice, humble guy. I'm sure if tapped by his kabalen to help out in a cause devoted to the re-fortification of his homeland, he would definitely say Wa, sige! (after making it through the manager, of course.)

Latest News

It seems like a pattern for Kapampangan teen stars who are products of reality searches. Film enthusiasts will remember the sexy debut of Tyron Perez, a Kapampangan teen star from Tarlac, through Mel Chionglo’s “Twilight Dancers.” More projects were seen to come to Perez after the film where he flaunted his flesh and performed a torrid kissing scene with William Martinez. Sadly, he disappeared from showbiz after that.

Joseph Bitangcol this time takes the same route. In the rising popularity of gay-themed films, both in the mainstream and indie category, Bitangcol was cast along with Polo Ravales in the film “Walang Kawala.” Bitangcol and Ravales fall in love with each other, kiss, make love, and all, and become victim of a bisexual sex slave syndicate. The film is Bitangcol’s sexy debut (and he had to be a homo), and is getting decent reviews from audiences. Directed by Joel Lamangan, the film also features a part of the story where Bitangcol resorted to being a macho dancer, kinda like Tyron.

Will Bitangcol suffer the same fate as Tyron Perez?

November 20, 2008

ASLAG Kapampangan 2008

The day right after the first of November, Artists Supporting Local Artists Guild or ASLAG Kapampangan held the Grand Finals of their second Kapampangan Pop Music Festival at Robinson’s San Fernando. This year, in contribution to environmental awareness campaigns, the theme was Indung Labuad a Santungan, Pakamalan Ya’t Lingapan (Value and Take Care of Mother Earth Sanctuary).

Songwriting Styles

The song, intentionally or not, aimed to produce Kapampangan songs that can stand as counterparts to popular Tagalog environmental songs such as Geneva Cruz’ “Anak Ng Pasig” and Asin’s “Masdan Mo Ang Kapaligiran.”

While songs don’t directly inspire people to act, especially if it’s about conservation of Mother Nature, they serve a function similar to that of national anthems, of wedding theme songs, of praise songs, of Alma Mater songs, of graduation songs, and of campaign jingles. What that function is, I can’t exactly pinpoint.

To make a song that can to some degree cause people to go out there and do environmental work is quite challenging and a test of a songwriter’s artistry. Of course, the music also aids greatly in the fulfillment of the goal.

A popular approach is playing the logic game where the songwriter assumes people to be for self-preservation. By establishing the connection between environment and the self and how one affects the other, the lyrics attempts to infiltrate the mind of the listeners by whispering: “If we do this or if we don’t stop doing that, this is what will happen, and it’s going to be really bad. You don’t want that.” This is the approach of the famous environmental song by Asin, as can be seen in the following sample lyrics:

Ang mga batang ngayon lang isinilang
May hangin pa kayang matitikman?
May mga puno pa kaya silang aakyatin
May mga ilog pa kayang lalanguyan?

Another approach is something close to ad misericordia, which even though categorized in communication books as a logical fallacy, works most of the time to a country that has bottomless affection toward everything melodramatic. The lyrics shouts: “Because of what you’re doing, this is what’s happening to me [or them]; have mercy on me/us/them!” This is exhibited well in “Anak Ng Pasig.”

Anak nang Pasig naman kayo
tapon doon, tapon dito
Di niyo alam ang tinatapon niyo
Ay bukas ko at ng buong mundo

Subject Picking

A first-time songwriter will usually write a song spontaneously—not necessarily a bad a bad thing—with no central, specific subject but the theme itself. If he is asked to write a song about the youth, he’ll write everything he can think of about the youth, not minding the organization of thoughts in his work.

One technique in choosing a subject is to pick an everyday experience which the masses can generally relate with, and upon listening to the song, they would to themselves say something like “Wa pin, ne!” This is the technique employed by young singer-songwriter Mark Jedh Yutuc, the winner of the recently concluded Kapampangan Pop Music Festival, with his entry “Balat Kendi.”

The message of “Balat Kendi,” performed by the songwriter himself together with K4ad member Jomar Dela Pena, is perfect for the busy people of Pampanga who have no interest or time to get involved in tree-planting activities and big waste management projects. The songs proposes that each average person can help in environmental concerns if altogether they cease throwing off candy wrappers anywhere they please.

Of course, waste management is more than that. But actually, if we did that, it would be nice. But let’s not limit ourselves to candy wrappers. I have seen a woman, who seems to be educated, who threw an empty tetrapack juice container while riding a jeepney in front of her child. Clearly a bad example. Last month, I scolded a friend who wanted to throw a plastic of garbage out of the van’s window while we were cruising down McArthur Hiway.

Why do Filipinos treat their surroundings a big trash can? We often talk about cultural preservation. If you ask me, this is certainly one aspect of Pinoy and Pampango culture which never in my wildest ambitions will I participate in conserving.


I’d like to applaud the other finalists of the tilt. “Uling Keka” (words by Nerian Miranda and Kenneth Macapugay, interpreted by Kate Ibanez), “Kanta Ning Indung Labuad” (words by Wilfredo Cunanan, interpreted by Anne Valerie Vital), “Berding Yatu” (words by Jun Gatbonton, interpreted by Lemuel Paras), “’Me Ko Keni, Tara Na” (words by Benny Guinto, interpreted by Bea Austria), “Misasanmetung” (words by Arnie Zablan, interpreted by Bin Bondoc), and “Pakamalan Ta Ya” (words by Ver Orquia, interpreted by Ana Nicolette Kho).

Except for “Uling Keka,” all songs were arranged by Aslag’s very own “Big Ben,” Mr. Ben Escasa. Fr. Ronnie Cao and Ms. Deng Escasa served as Kapampangan vocal dubbing supervisors.

K4ad is currently K3ad

A noticeable thing in the event is the K4ad’s temporary reduction to K3ad, as one of their members, Mark Jedh Yutuc, who happens to be the winner of the contest, can no longer participate due to, according to him, his busy schedule with other matters. Fr. Ronnie Cao told me they are currently in search for a replacement to Yutuc.

November 17, 2008

Archipelago Music Blog Project

Wikipedia provides us a pretty fair definition of what OPM is. “Original Pilipino Music, now more commonly termed Original Pinoy Music or Original Philippine Music, (frequently abbreviated to OPM) originally referred only to Filipino pop songs, especially those in the ballad form, such as songs popularized in the 1970s through the mid-1990s by major commercial Filipino pop artists like Ryan Cayabyab, Kuh Ledesma, Zsa Zsa Padilla, Martin Nievera, Basil Valdez, Rey Valera, Regine Velasquez, Ogie Alcasid, Lani Misalucha, Lea Salonga, and APO Hiking Society.

In the passage of time as well as the development of many diverse and alternative musical styles in the Philippines, however, the term OPM now refers to any type of Original Philippine Music created in the Philippines or composed by individuals of Philippine extraction, regardless of location at the time when composed. The lyrics, in fact, may be in any language or dialect.

Although most of it are written either in Filipino/Tagalog, English or Taglish, OPMs written in foreign languages (eg. in Japanese), though handful, do exist.”

Monstrosity of Radio

I once asked a senior DJ from a renowned and Golden Dove Award-winning FM radio station in Manila if they are open to playing OPM (Original Pilipino Music) sung in neither Tagalog nor English. With cold honesty, he told me a two-letter but painful word: NO.

“Even if they’re really good?” I asked.

“Uh-huh,” he replied.

Trying to prick his conscience, I questioned, “Isn’t that a form of racial discrimination? Aren’t songs sung in other languages like Kapampangan, Waray-Waray, and Bisaya also Filipino, and thus, should be welcomed in your Original PILIPINO Music segments?”

“Sorry, dude, but that’s just how the business is,” he answered with finality. “It’s nothing personal.”

MTV Pilipinas

MTV Pilipinas is more mature and racially sensitive. Proud of our work on the music video of “Oras” by Mernuts and “Alang Anggang Sugat” by 5 Against The Wall, we contacted MTV Pilipinas and asked them if they are willing to incorporate in their OPM playlists our Kapampangan music videos, “since we’re Pilipino din naman.”

Surprisingly, they said yes and claimed that they are supportive of OPM regardless of the language being used. They even said they’re happy that movements to develop OPM in regional languages are occurring, citing the Visayan music scene, led by Bisrock or Bisaya Rock, as a good example.

The catch, however—which to me is just fair—is that the music videos should be at par with other music videos we see on TV. We had no problems with that, as we made sure that our music videos were in one way or another worth the attention.

And, thus, the first Kapampangan music video to air on MTV Pilipinas (in its OPM show called “Tong Hits”), “Oras” by Mernuts.

MYX on the other hand is an unfinished story, and we are still working on it.

Music of the Archipelago

Although there are some groups like MTV Pilipinas that support OPM from the regions, majority of the mass media still marginalize non-Tagalog and non-English OPM. It is for this reason that our group decided to attempt to make a change by creating our newest blog project: Archipelago Music: Philippine Music Without Borders.

Launched recently, it is a blog that will serve to promote new Philippine music (OPM) from the regions. It attempts to empower regional music, especially those sung in the various regional languages of the archipelago like Ilokano, Bikol, Kapampangan, Waray-Waray, Meranaw, etc., amidst the dominance of Tagalog and Pinoy English songs and music videos in the world of OPM.

This is one of the advocacy projects of Kalalangan Kamaru, a multidisciplinary team of Kapampangan youth seeking to develop and propagate Kapampangan pride, culture, and language to the Kapampangan youth. This time, it extends its ideologies to the other ethnolinguistic groups to empower the regions more and make the Philippines a truly multicultural yet unified nation, submitting proof to the infamous query: How can you love others [regions] if you don’t first love yourself [Kapampangan]?

The issue of a Tagalog- and English-centric OPM was first raised in GMA-7's “Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho” in their segment “Promdi Rock.” It was Kalalangan Kamaru actually who fed them the idea of making a feature on that topic, including another segment that featured TV dramas from the regions.

We believe that if regions unite, Manila the capital will open its doors to regional OPM and thus, elevating regional OPM into national status, and thereby inspiring some sense of healthy competitiveness among the OPM artists from the regions, instead of aspiring for nothing beyond “Puwede na.”

Sample Artists

The blog in its November launching has already featured three artists. First is Bronze P, the son of Ilonggo undergroup hiphop. Bronze P of La Paz, Iloilo City is an independent Ilonggo artist under his own production label, Bronze Beats, who makes urban beats and tunes in the Hiligaynon language.

Next is a Bisaya duo that has already received a national award, albeit in the regional category—the 2006 Awit Awards Best Regional Recording. As their homepage says, “Out of everyday-life ghettos and the ever changing urbanity, from what Dabawenyos call home hails a tandem that will conquer your senses and ravish you to your seats. Brandishing their acts to the hip hop and RnB groove, they're breaking into your audio waves to bring you their message that rightfully speaks of their collective name: Thavawenyoz.”

Also featured is the first Cuyonon band to make rock songs in the Cuyonon language, Bulyaw Mariguen. Hailing from the little island of Cuyo, Palawan, Bulyaw Mariguen are planning to launch an independent Cuyonon album this December.

More OPM artists, songs, and music videos from the regions will be featured in the future! A diverse music playlist of songs from different Philippine languages is also available in the blog. Archipelago Music will also post some essays and industry assessments that will certainly aid regional artists in their quest for empowerment.

In the words of an Ilokano blogger, “Adtoy pay ti maysa nga barbaro a website a natakuatak. Ti Archipelago Music ket mangipakpakita ken mangipadpadengngeg kadagiti kankanta nga naggapu kadagiti rehiyones ti Pilipinas. Adda man nangngegko idiay nga rap version ti Manang Biday! Mayat met! Agtultuloy koma dagiti kastoy a proyekto. Nagbayagen a Tagalog ti kankanayon a mangmangngeg kadagiti FM stations iti pagiliantayo. Rumbeng met ita nga selebrarantayo ti nadumaduma a kultura ti Filipino!”

Come and visit

November 15, 2008

Ing Sakondu

The Unknown Kapampangan Laman Labuad

Writing about Apung Monang or Simeona “Monang” Calma-Matsdairo—the zarzuela-acting sister of my maternal grandfather and she who got married with a Japanese man (an actual heir to a Japanese royalty of the Matsdairo clan) at the age of 14 during the Japanese occupation—in my previous article about Teatru Ima at Arti, I was reminded that she’s to some degree psychic, so said my Ima.

Apung Monang as a lady demonstrated her psychic skills by casually addressing creatures of otherworldly dimensions. She would point to fairies and elves in a very relaxed manner, as if just pointing at ants lined on the wall. Of course, she would freak out people around her, including Ima, whose fear of the unknown is amplified by her typical Catholic senses—anything paranormal should be diabolic in nature.

My Limited Memory

Apung Monang and her little brother, Apung Marcial (Marciano Lansang Calma), who is my maternal grandfather and a former soldier during the American-Japanese War, slept in the same room when they grew up, along with my grandmother, Apung Ines (Ines Lagman-Calma). We were already living in Angeles then and by the time I was growing up as a toddler, Apung Monang and Apung Marcial were already somewhat senile.

Apung Marcial often rested beneath our thorny anahaw plant in the middle of our garden. Wounds would line up on his skin and he wouldn’t care, thanks to his senility. Having attachment to his hometown Porac where he became tinyente in one of the barangays, he occasionally walked out from the house without warning and kept on proclaiming he wanted to return to Porac. As a mischievous kid, I would offer him a medium-sized block of Lego and tell him it’s bread. He would try to eat it only to discern it’s as hard as rock. I then would laugh at his conclusion: “E la tinape reni, kendi la.”

Apung Monang was more of the silent type, as even though she was already senile, she just laid still in her bedroom. In fact, I have no special memory of her; all the tales about her, including her marriage with an heir to some royal Japanese family, are all thanks to Ima’s storytelling.

When Apung Marcial died, the family didn’t want to tell Apung Monang at once because she might grieve a great deal, and it could be jeopardous to her health. But when my aunt came to visit her—surprise!—she was already grieving because she already knew what occurred. How? According to Apung Monang, a certain white figure—an angel or something—approached her and delivered the report. My aunt’s hair raised.

The Sakondu

One of the laman labuad (elementals) that Apung Monang used to claim to be seeing is an elemental she and a lot of my Poraqueño relatives call the sakondu. How it looks like, I still have no idea. I consulted several sources, including Kapampangan historians, folklorists, and other authorities of so-called Kapampangan culture, but none of them could shed light on what a sakondu is.

In one of my recent visits to the spiritists of Jalung, Porac, I asked a relative, Apung Asing, about the sakondu. She knew that it was an elemental, but she couldn’t characterize it for me. All she knew was that, like the popular kapri, duendi, and magkukutud, the sakondu was also used by folk elders to scare children to submission. “Oyan na ing sakondo!” elders would threat.

Out of curiosity, I tried to play researcher for a bit. Sakondu actually sounds like a Spanish word. I searched its possible origin—sacondo or secondo—through the Internet and it (secondo) appears to actually be an Italian word, and it has a very interesting meaning.


According to a short definition from Wikipedia, secondo is a term of Italian origin used in the German speaking areas of Switzerland to denote someone who is the child of immigrants. Because of conservative Swiss citizenship law, these children are often unable to become citizens and may feel marginalized.

In an article by N. D. Schäfer at, he reports that people of foreign descent born in Switzerland don’t automatically get a Swiss passport; they are still seen as different from the Swiss natives. The author further explains, “There’s even a term for them: secondo (for females: seconda), a term used only in the German-speaking part of Switzerland even though clearly Italian. The sons and daughters of secondos and secondas are called terceros and terceras (from Spanish).”

I am reminded of the theory about the origin of the term kapri, a more popular local folklore character. Some say that it could have been from kaffir, a word brought by the Europeans in our archipelago which they use to address black southern Africans. From the Arabic word kafir, it originally means heathen, infidel, or non-believer. To further demonize the concept, the Spaniards could have propagated a more monstrous image of a kaffir, and hence, our paranormal fear of the kapri, which physically speaking resembles the general physique of a tall African man, only ornamented with frightening features like inflicting harm or sickness on people, tobacco-smoking, tree-dwelling, and others.

Now, could it be possible that the idea of the sakondu came from the Europeans’ secondo as well? That the concept was flavored with horror in our lands for them to institutionalize in our virgin minds this ethnic slur toward what they consider “second-class citizens” or secondos in their part of the world?

It could be. Devout Kapampangan researchers may look into this theory more.

A meaningful All Souls’ Day to everyone!

November 12, 2008

Pampanga the Prostitute, Manila the Customer

Pampanga the Prostitute, Manila the Customer
A Review of Brillante Mendoza's 'Masahista'

The first time I heard about the Kapampangan digital film Masahista by Brillante Mendoza, I quickly searched for a DVD copy of it. Yes, even a pirated copy, just to be able to watch it. Thank Ápung Sinukuan, I got an original copy at SM.

My thesis proposal during my stay in the Broadcast Communication Department of the UP College of Mass Communication was about halting the deterioration of the Kapampangan language in Angeles City through the use of broadcast media, particularly TV, by giving people media content (soap operas, talk shows, teen-oriented shows, etc.) in the Kapampangan language.

But that topic was a trimmed down version of what I originally would like to make a study of. I wanted to cover all forms of mass media: print, film, radio, and even theater.

In the area of film, with 100% confidence, I hail Brillante “Dante” Mendoza the father of Kapampangan films. While there is no evident Kapampangan film industry yet, ever since his series of films, young Kapampangan filmmakers have been inspired to write screenplays using their Ámanung Sisuan. If I know, other non-Tagalog filmmakers have been influenced by Mendoza’s films, which I love to describe as “culturally detailed” and “colorfully realistic.”

Although not entirely Kapampangan when it comes to the language used, they offer a great deal of Kapampangan stuff, like festivals, traditions, superstitions, and comic relief only Kapampangans (by land of birth and language spoken) would be able to relate and give significance to.


Mendoza is a renowned production designer in many films. Famous in his lineup is the 1986 film ‘Private Show’ by Chito Roño, where he bagged an award; ‘Takaw Tukso’ by William Pascual; and 1985’s ‘Virgin Forest’ by Peque Gallaga, where he became Art Director.

Then one day, he decided to make his own film, thanks for being acquainted with Angeles City’s Ferdie Lapuz, a known international film distributor who has brought several Filipino films like Maryo Delos Reyes’ ‘Magnifico’ and Francis Xavier Pasion’s ‘Jay’ outside the country.

Who knew that in spite of Mendoza’s fame in Production Design, he would get greater honor as a Director, since his debut directorial film ‘Masahista’ (The Masseur) won the Golden Leopard Award in the video competition of the 58th Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland, which brought artistic pride to both the Filipino and Kapampangan community.


Center Stage Productions. Starring Coco Martin, Jaclyn Jose, Katherine Luna, and Alan Paule. Synopsis: Iliac is a young masseur who went home to Pampanga to find out that his bedridden father is dead. Iliac assists in the preparation of his father's burial including dressing his dead father up inside the morgue (Source: Wikipedia).

It’s not entirely a Kapampangan film (the Internet Movie Database even states that the language of the film is just Tagalog), because the story takes place both in Manila and Pampanga. In Pampanga, the characters speak Kapampangan. When Iliac goes to Manila, he speaks Tagalog, because his customer Marina Hidalgo (Alan Paule) was Caviteño and his raunchy girlfriend (Katherine Luna) was Tagalog-speaking. Some of his co-masseurs are Kapampangan though and they speak the language even though working in Manila.

In Mendoza’s visit to the Holy Angel University where we both delivered workshops to young film aspirants, he stated that his main goal in filmmaking is to show truth. Hence, the cultural detail, the scenes that would raise the eyebrows of censors and conservative families, and his unpopularity among the masses, who always go for the mainstream, escapist movies.

Truthful Cinema

A line I can never forget from the Hollywood film ‘V For Vendetta’ goes something like this: “Politicians use lies to hide the truth while artists use lies to tell the truth.” Mendoza is an illustration of this statement as even though his films appear to be fictitious, they are largely based on reality.

There is really no beginning-climax-end to look out for in ‘Masahista.’ A lot of critics say the story is flat; I couldn’t agree more. However, such sincerity is what makes me like most of Mendoza’s films. They are the show-don’t-tell type. Plus the culture and realistic happenings foster a sense of reality and sophistication. Of course, Mendoza can’t expect to be patronized by the average Filipino, since it takes some high level of art appreciation and intellect to enjoy his works.

The Kapampangan Experience

Culture, which manifests materially (through crafts, shelters, clothes, language, physical activities) and immaterially (beliefs, values, judgments, norms, laws), is presented in detail in ‘Masahista.’ Since a lot of scenes are in Pampanga, present Kapampangan culture enjoys much highlighting.

In ‘Masahista,’ Coco Martin (who is of Kapampangan descent himself) plays the role of a Kapampangan masseur. Asked why Mendoza (and Lapuz) chose the masseur to be Kapampangan, they said it’s because a lot of Kapampangan boys really work as masseurs in Manila, which they attribute to the average Kapampangan male’s tendency to be lazy and wanting of quick money.

The opening scene of the movie was enough to make me relate it to my life as a Kapampangan who used to study in Quezon City going home every weekend to Pampanga: the view of the plains and rice fields along the North Luzon Expressway under the vast firmament.
Then we are taken to sites and objects such as the kalésa (horse-driven carriage), pedicabs (public transport tricycles that house no motors), and the parul (giant lantern)—all of which would be more familiar to a Fernandino, since the setting of the film is specifically in the City of San Fernando.

I live in Angeles City and don’t go beyond the Intersection to the center of San Fernando so those objects didn’t really ring a bell. However, when I, for the first time, paid a visit to the City Hall of San Fernando to deliver a lecture on the state of the Kapampangan language for the city’s Heritage Week, I was given familiarity to the stuff I saw in ‘Masahista.’ I even rode a kalésa and a pedicab for the first time in Pampanga!

Cultural Detail

More cultural detail involves masseurs speaking their native tongues (Kapampangan, Bisaya), Iliac washing his feet the way Pinoys usually do, the continuous operation of prostitution houses, the palengki-like tawaran between prostitutes and customers, the forbidding of sweeping after the death of one person, the Kapampangan’s habit of criticizing people who accidentally trip (“Mulala!”), the feast-like funeral activities of people like playing cards, gossiping, and indulging on food, making a big deal out of a power failure, and many more.

Then, of course, the wonderful giant lanterns only Kapampangan craftsmen can erect beautifully. They are made for the annual Liglígan Parul (Giant Lantern Festival). The behind-the-scenes footages of the DVD show the technical side of the giant lantern and how the lights are controlled.

Beautiful Obscurity

I’m not really sure if the director/writer is trying to say something about life being like the magnificence of the giant lanterns and how people marvel at their beauty, but you are free to associate Iliac’s life with them. Mendoza’s films have the tendency to be unclear, but that is what makes artsy people intrigued; is the director trying to say something deep? Hence, the birth of the viewer’s thinking. Hence, Mendoza’s films can make you exercise your mind.

An interpretation I made, being a federalist and an Imperial Manila decentralist, involves the masseurs being provincianos and the customers and pimps Manila Tagalogs. I won’t discuss it in detail, since it will take a new set of pages to elaborate, but people familiar with the “Imperial Manila” discourse will get what I mean.

A Balid Film

Speaking of a sense of reality, on the bad side, it is obvious that the lead actors who have a number of Kapampangan lines are not Kapampangan-proficient, and the fact that they are not reeks in the way they deliver their Kapampangan lines.

Coco Martin is obvious in trying to adopt the sort of singsong accent of Kapampangan. Foreign and non-Kapampangan viewers have the slightest probability to detect such flaw, but for a Kapampangan like me, I can only cringe or laugh at the mispronunciations the actors make, the same way I roll in laughter at the trying-hard English of some Manila starlets.

Worse, in some lines, Coco mixed Tagalog grammar/words and Kapampangan. For instance, in an apparently fake accent, he said, “Sori pu, na-lowbatt ako nabengi.” (Sorry, my cell phone ran out of battery last night. / Sorry po, na-lowbatt ako kagabi.)

A native would find the line funny, because it should have been “Sóri pû, mé-lowbatt ku nabéngi.” Kapampangan verb tenses don’t sport the use of na- and the word ako is basically Tagalog.

Jaclyn Jose, who played Natty, the tocino-making mother of Iliac, was good. Almost. In some scenes, I was convinced that she indeed spoke the language. But it’s no surprise, as Jaclyn Jose is an Angeleño from Brgy. Sto Rosario. In the shooting of the controversial Pinoy film that made it to the main competition of the Cannes Film Festival ‘Serbis’ (where I worked as local coordinator and script continuity supervisor), we spoke to Jaclyn in Kapampangan, and even though she is balid, one can speak to her in Kapampangan and expect her to understand fully.

All of the extras in the Pampanga scenes, plus the siblings of Iliac (Lakan ning San Fernando 2008 Aaron Rivera and his younger sister) and one or two of the masseurs, are genuine Kapampangans. I can tell by the way they speak. Also, seeing their minor characters behave the way I perceive Kapampangans to behave in some occasions—such as the brutal gossiping behind people’s backs, silent criticizing upon another’s misfortune, and overreaction to actually-no-big-deal stimuli—makes the film closer to home.

It’s a great, even though simple and plain, film. In fact, it has earned a spot in my ‘Favorite Movies’ section in my Friendster profile. What taints it is the broken Kapampangan of the lead actors.

I’d like to believe that film is audio-visual and it is its innate goal to give the audience a sense of reality, not make them pretend to believe. With linguistic imperfections, reaching the goal is about 25% hindered. Sadly, even in Mendoza’s follow-up film ‘Káleldo’ (‘Summer Heat’), the lead actors speak Kapampangan as if with twisted tongues.

But then again, I understand. There aren’t many Kapampangan-speaking actors. I just hope that in the future, this language thing would be fixed in Mendoza’s (and every Kapampangan filmmaker’s) films. I believe we’re on our way there.

Please email reactions to Photo of Mendoza by Laura Irvine.

November 9, 2008

The Rebellion of the Age 50+

Photo by Ruston Banal, Jr.

The Rise of Teatru Ima at Arti
By Jason Paul Laxamana
Urban Kamaru
Central Luzon Daily

“Your Apung Monang used to be a zarzuela actress,” Ima would recount, referring to Simeona “Monang” Calma-Matsdairo, the sister of my maternal grandfather who got married with a Japanese man at the age of 14 during the Japanese occupation. Ima told me that in reaction to ArtiSta. Rita’s “Siwala the Musical” at St. Scholastica’s Academy which she and I watched together.

Apung Monang was young, active, and vibrant then. They would travel to different places within and outside Porac to perform various Kapampangan musicals, which most memorable to my Mom is a play called “Bunga Ning Dewakan.” She seemed to be so good and popular in her thespian career, in that one time two years ago, when Ima was buying some fruits and vegetables at the kabalenan of Angeles, a certain vendor whom we didn’t know asked her about Apung Monang; the vendor was actually a fan of hers.

Nakbag, Angat

Zarzuelas were halted for several reasons. Ima guessed that it could be because of the introduction of movies and, later on, television. Then, when the Mt. Pinatubo erupted, it seemed almost impossible to revive zarzuelas. Then came ArtiSta. Rita a decade after.

ArtiSta. Rita swept the “culturally ailing” and “theater-ignorant” province with their well-attended Kapampangan musicals and albums. It introduced several youths who showed what the Kapampangans can offer in the field of performance, and I personally cite Edward Bernabe, one of the lead male singers of the group, to be very promising.

ArtiSta. Rita is one of the groups that fuse career with the socialization of the talented Kapampangan youth on their ethnicity and heritage, including language. While everyone else is busy tapping young ones to participate in the industry of Kapampangan empowerment, Mr. Andy Alviz, Artistic Director of ArtiSta. Rita, found an often-ignored bracket of people and decided to tap their energy to play part in the emerging Kapampangan bandwagon—women with ages 50 and above, willing to develop and share their thespian skills to a seemingly ageist society. Altogether, the group came to be known as MaArti, or Teatru Ima at Arti.

Photo by Ruston Banal, Jr.

Rebellion Against Ageism

Ageism is relatively a new concept in the Philippines. It is loosely defined as discrimination or marginalization based on one’s age, and the frequent victims of this are the youth (ageism against the youth or adultism) and the elders (ageism against the elders).

I first heard the term in Prof. Albina Peczon Fernandez’ Gender in Literature class when I was studying in UP Diliman, where we tackled the popular fate of female elders in modern Philippine society—they become stuck at home, become unpaid accomplishers of household chores and yayas to the grandchildren, and sometimes, even reprimanded—shouted at—for their fading memory power, right within the perimeters of the home they used to energetically build.

The performing arts, including theater and show business are breeding pools of ageism, the kind that would tend to discriminate the aged. Star searches on television want innocent teenagers the image of whom they can mold to their liking. The same goes for shows that search for the next local idol in singing. Theater, while less discriminating to the elderly compared to showbiz when it comes to performing, is still dominated by the young. And for female elders who are most probably stuck at home fulfilling the dictations of family tradition, they should be having lesser chances of being included in theater.

The members of MaArti are lucky, for their group is the first of its kind in the country, where elders take the limelight. It sure is a liberating experience for aged women to experience the spotlight in spite of the age (which a lot of women tend to conceal), the side effects of aging, the household responsibilities, and the ageist society.

As for a watcher like me, I actually find old people, especially old Kapampangan women, beautiful. And I don’t mean just physically beautiful, but beautiful in every sense of it. They seem to be very experienced, full of wisdom, and naturally funny. The Kapampangan woman is said to be a powerful member of the society, as well reflected in Brillante Mendoza’s films. In fact, in an interview with Mendoza for the film “Serbis,” he described Filipino society as “ruled by the women but it is the men who are in the forefront.”

Kebaitan Da Ring Ketuan

Rita Alarcon recounts how the group began. “Andy first brought up the idea two years ago but nothing came out of that plan. When the idea came out again in one of our conversations in the gym, he asked us if we were interested. When he saw the enthusiasm, he immediately told us to recruit people who may be interested in theater. Because of technology, we were able to gather a group of about 20 persons and by August 19 we had our first meeting.”

“We continued to recruit more through friends and had our first workshop after a week. The rest is history. Barely a month we had our script and after a month we had our launching and MaArti was born.”

Childhood or Current Dream?

It couldn’t have been a childhood dream of theirs to perform in front of people, but during their younger years, they had varying degrees of being inclined to performing.

“I do not recall if it was my dream to be a stage performer since childhood, but when I was in the States, I wanted to enroll and take up Theater Arts,” recalls Roxanne Gorospe. “Since I was a little girl, my elders would put me on top of the table and make me sing and dance. I come from a musically-oriented family and I guess that easily explains what I do now.”

As a student, Gorospe was often involved in events that required singing, dancing, acting, and choreography. She taught choirs of different age brackets at a young age and when college came, she took and finished a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education, Major in Voice at the University of the Philippines College of Music. Behold: she also became a member of the prominent Philippine Madrigal Singers, and even became a vocal coach to Aiza Seguerra.

Her involvement in the Kapampangan industry is highlighted by her participation in the recording of Juan Crisostomo Soto’s “Alang Dios” along with Alviz himself.

For Dita Patawaran, on the other hand, she secretly wished to land on lead female roles in school dramas, but she often got in small roles. “In one of our school plays, the only role I was given was a bride with no single line to say,” recounts Patawaran. “I just had to walk down the aisle and that’s it.”

But who could have foretold that during their launching at ArtiSta. Rita’s “Pamanuli” Concert at the Holy Angel University, she would act the role of a supladang palengkera?

Alarcon actually never dreamt of taking performing as her chosen career path despite of being a regular participant in school plays. “But when the opportunity to have workshops with no less than Andy Alviz,” she said, “we grabbed the opportunity.”

Bayung Experience

In theater, youngbloods are often the ones sought for. But Alviz thought that the age group of MaArti members are “untapped resources.” Alviz expounds, “They are actually the most perfect artists in terms of experiences, maturity, confidence and depth.”

Asked about the difference between handling young thespians and the older, Alviz claims it’s basically the same. “No difference at all,” he declares. “These women can do anything. They are not old women, not aged; they are ripe, mature, and perfect for the harvest.”

Working most of the time with young actors age 40 and below, Alviz finds working with MaArti members a learning experience for him. “These women have so much passion discipline and love for what they are doing.”

True enough, as in spite of the side-products of aging, these women still find time and effort to attend their twice-a-week workshops with their director. Aging is “embellished” with various features my own mother would often make saingsing about—rheumatism, arthritis, depreciated stamina, blood pressure, memory gaps, etc.

Source of Strength

Surprisingly though, the idea of MaArti is claimed to be, as Alarcon would say, “a therapeutic source of physical and psychological strength.”

Patawaran testifies on this. “In one of our rehearsals,” she reports, “I heard someone say, Ba’t kaya patye Lunis at Webis, ala kung panamdamang másakit, lalu na istung miblas na ku para munta kening workshop tamo?”

“In a great big way, these women are very healthy, exciting, riotously ready to do anything Andy would tell them,” Gorospe asserts. “The things you mentioned (arthritis and all) are present in some but no worries. I myself am experiencing the challenges of being pre-menopausal.” She further humorously elaborates, “I have ovarian cysts, oneng sabi na pin Andy: Sus, nowadays if you don't have ovarian cysts, ali ka ‘in.’ I think by this time mengalaglag no reni king kaka-ayli!”

Corito Tayag of Angeles City shares a different story though. In spite of age, she claims to be a healthy woman. She does Tai Chi about four to five times a week and dances a lot, which she considers as exercise. A disclaimer though from her: “I guess the biggest problem would be the senior moments: the memory gap!”

In spite of everything, these women want to keep on doing what they’re doing as long as their health permits it, as long as there is clamor for the group, and as Gorospe puts it, as long as “e ya susuku i Andy kekami.”

And the Family Says…

MaArti members are most probably mothers and homemakers. How do their better halves and children react to their joining a theater group?

Gorospe, Alarcon, and Tayag can say in unison that their husbands and children have no apprehensions on their MaArti participation. “My husband is very supportive and proud that I can dance and perform on stage,” Tayag says. Alarcon narrates that her daughter and husband even came to watch her during the “Pamanuli” concert.

Patawaran has a different story to tell. “As of now, they frown at me,” she laments. “Maybe they could not imagine I can do it because I don’t even have the art of cooking. At times they even complain why I am nowadays always out of the office. I even jokingly said in one of our interviews that I was already fired so I have no choice but to take my early retirement.”

But when these women become fully and successfully transformed—after the CDs, commercial endorsements, radio and TV exposures, national, US and world tour that Alviz is envisioning for them the way he did for ArtiSta. Rita—will Patawaran’s family and other people skeptical of the potential of the group still frown? Patawaran tells us to “watch out and see.”

If Alviz and the group indeed materialize their plans—which I am praying for—then MaArti will go down in history and become a source of Kapampangan pride, and perhaps even Filipino pride, for the future generations to come, regardless of age.