by: Floy Quintos
Reprinted from THE SUNDAY INQUIRER MAGAZINE , October 2, 2005 issue.
Lahar spelled death for the La Naval procession in Bacolor, Pampanga. This month, four La Sallians are bringing the tradition to the De La Salle Campus in Dasmarinas, Cavite so that students can begin their own tradition of homage to the Virgin.
The bucolic grounds of the Museo De La Salle in the Cultural Heritage Complex of the De La Salle campus in Dasmarinas, Cavite, are abuzz with student volunteers and museum personnel busy at work. Their task is a daunting one, perhaps a bit anachronistic in a campus where most of the students major in computer studies and nursing. They are restoring and assembling the largest extant 19th century Carroza Triunfal known, a massive yet graceful carroza of beaten silver.
For this October, the Nuestra Senora del Santissimo Rosario de La Naval of Bacolor, Pampanga comes home to the De La Salle campus in Dasmarinas. And here, every October from now on, she will ride forth again. One can almost hear Nick Joaquin rhapsodizing about his most beloved of Marian festivals.
And when she does, fours sons of De La Salle will have fulfilled a vow to rekindle a devotion to the Naval. They are Brother Andrew Gonzalez, FSC, two-time president of the De La Salle University System, who was just last week installed as the first President Emeritus; Brother Edmundo Fernandez, FSC, the youngest Brother Provincial of the De La Salle community in the country and Brother Armin Luistro, FSC, current president of the De La Salle University Manila and, quite recently, an active participant in national causes.
Providing a delightful counterpoint to this august company is Jose Ma. Ricardo Panlilio, or Joey, Executive Director of the Museo De La Salle and connoisseur of all things pertaining to 19th century Philippine Illustrado style. All four come from diverse backgrounds, but share a quiet devotion spread among the De La Salle students.
For Joey, 41, the image of the Virgin and the attendant St. Joseph, the massive and priceless carro and the very tradition of honoring the La Naval are, at once, a remnant of childhood and a symbol of a painful rite of passage into the real world. The images last custodian was his paternal grandmother, the late Luz Sarmiento Panlilio, a grand dame of Bacolor, Pampanga, and elder sister to the fabulous jeweler Fe.
My childhood was greatly influenced by Inang Lucing, says Joey. I remember how the carro and the image of the virgen was the most important thing in her life. And how the entire year centered on the preparation for the November festival, which is when the La Naval was celebrated in Bacolor. My brothers and I were studying in La Salle and our immediate family was based in Manila. But every November just as the novena began, we had to come home. Inang Lucing would ask our parents to issue excuse letters. It was important to our family.
Joey, from a very young age, took a great interest in the preparation of the carro. Weeks before, the pieces were taken out from the camarin or warehouse for polishing, reconstructing, repairing. Inang would show me the lace and tissue that she had bought from her trips to Spain and involve me in the work. She would teach me the way the virgen must be dressed, the appropriate flowers, the appropriate music that the marching band would play. I just took to it naturally, it was all a part of my education in the traditions of the 19th century.
But such archaic minutae also had a fun side. Kapampangans are great eaters, and the day of the fiesta was one big celebration of Bacolor cuisine. We would wake at dawn to see the formal living room of the old house strewn with barongs. We would get into them and go to the high Mass. Then, we would come home to breakfast, a meal to which everyone in town was invited. At mid-morning, Segundo almuerzo, a heavy merienda was offered to all who had worked on the carro. Lunch was hectic because all the visitors from Manila would arrive, and it was a matter of Kapampangan pride that Inang offer them a table of the very best specialties.
s which believed in tradition, and my own familys pragmatism and modernity! His mother, the writer Lourdes Abad-Panlilio, once whispered to Joey, just as the carroza was sweeping past in all its dazzling grandeur, You must always remember, hijo, the virgen was a simple woman.
Joey looks back with little nostalgia and lots of pragmatism. It was a feudal lifestyle, yes. But the one thing I most treasure about it is that it taught us to deal with everyone from all classes of life. It wasnt this stereotyped ideal of having caciques and tenants at your beck and call. Everything was community-based. We worked alongside the people who worked for us. We decorated the carro together, we ate together, we marched in the procession together. It was for the Virgin, that was the way we thought about it. It was a dying tradition even then. But in Bacolor, the procession was a source of community pride.
Sadly as Joey grew into adulthood, he saw the gradual loss of interest in the benighted tradition. It needed only the lahar to put an end to the procession, to that entire way of life.
Joey and his siblings must have been ready to say goodbye to it in 1990, when the Pinatubo eruption covered most of Bacolor in lahar. But Inang Lucing, well into her eighties, had other plans. I remember I told her that it would be difficult to organize an evacuation for the furniture and the household effects. She told me, What furniture? All we really need is the carro. It dawned on me that this feisty old woman had lived her entire life for only two things, her family and the virgen. We had to do it.
Inang, Joey and his brothers and a few friends from Manila went back in a 10-wheeler truck. She rode right up front next to the driver. We went back and tried to save as much as we could. Everyday, the lahar would rise a little higher, but we finally managed. On the long ride back, I started to complain. Inang was praying her rosary, but she stopped to say, at least we have somewhere to go. During the war, when I evacuated to the carro, there was nowhere to go. That certainly said a lot about Inang and her character. WE brought everything back and put it into storage. However, there was no more community, no more old friends and neighbors. The entire structure that had made the procession come alive was gone. And there was nothing she could do about that. Inang Lucing died in 1998, a shadow of her former self, but still an ardent devotee to the La Naval.
Brother Andrew Gonzalez FSC, former President of De La Salle University Manila, himself a descendant of the prosperous Arnedo-Gonzalez clan of Sulipan, Apalit, Pampanga, was no stranger to Kapampangan tradition. But Brother is one of the most forward-looking men Ive ever met. He admires the past, but he does not live in it. He knew we had saved all this stuff, he knew that it was in storage. He called me one day and said, Put all your memories of childhood into a place where students can learn about them. You have a responsibility to the future generation. The Museo De La Salle was born. As envisioned by Brother Andrew, it would be part of a cultural complex in the 27-Hectare De La Salle Dasmarinas campus, with the Aklatang Emilio Aguinaldo, the Campus Ministry Office and the Cavite Studies Center. All of a sudden, Joey who had been a practicing interior designer, had a new purpose in life. It was no problem to get the family donate everything to the new museum. It was the least painful way to say goodbye to memories.
Five years into operation, and the Museo De La Salle located in Dasmarinas, Cavite is not only one of the best-endowed museums in the country, it is also one of the most talked about. As Executive Director, Joey has managed some wonderful coups, such as important private donations, most notably the Guevarra Collection. His old-world tact and diplomacy, coupled with a wicked charm and serendipity, has gotten the museum many important bequests from the crème collectors. But it is his florid style of display, so true to the hyper-refined sensibility of the late 19th century, that make the museum truly unique.
Still, Joey says, It lacked, in Brother Andrew Gonzalez FSCs words, a spiritual center. Now that the museum is up and running, it seems the best time to bring out the Virgen again. It has been 14 years since she was last seen. But this time, it will be in a setting and at a time where she will give a different meaning to the festivities. And among young people who know nothing of Bacolor, Pampanga and the past, but who are ready to create their own traditions.
When the Virgen de la Naval of Bacolor rides forth again in the De La Salle Campus in Dasmarinas, Caviteon this month sacred to her and her devotees, there will be no more caciques and tenants, no proud matrons of feudal society, no children forced home from school to attend to her. Instead she will be pulled along by students who have volunteered for the honor of being her escorts. Perhaps, in Bacolor, she heard very different prayers - for better crops or kinder masters and cancelled debts. This time the prayers will be for exams, for careers, for much-needed jobs. No grand fetes, no groaning tables will mark her fiesta. Only the quiet admiration of a new community that is beginning something they can call their own. No need now for new jewels and crowns for this La Naval.