Saturday, March 27, 2010


What would you do if you recognize a flagellant as someone who has committed a terrible offense against you or a loved one?  A friend was telling me the other day of his amusement while watching a group of flaggelants on Good Friday last year when suddenly a woman broke off from the crowd, rushed toward a hooded penitent, and beat him all over his body with fists and shoes while cursing him to high heavens.  And he submitted meekly to the beating. Our conjecture was that this guy must have done something wrong that could even put him behind bars.

There were no flagellants or penitents carrying crosses in our hometown San Narciso, Zambales (where we took the picture above on Good Friday 2007) when we were growing up, although some people would go to watch these folk religion practitioners two-towns away in Castillejos.  But with the influx of migrants from places where the penitensiya is a Holy Week tradition, we now see a growing number of flagellants in procession from the church and around town before they all go for a cleansing dip in the China sea. 

The penitensiya is believed to have been copied by the pagan and head-hunting indios of yore from the Spanish friars of the conquista.  Fervid converts like today's manongs and manangs of the Roman catholic church took the words and deeds of the cura as their religious credo without question. It's only of recent memory that parishioners were weaned away from rote recitation of prayers, novenas and other oral expressions of faith (like "opo, padre" in all our indigenous dialects) and encouraged to go back to the Scriptures. Good thing about it, folk catholic rites have become part of cultural traditions that are gainfully convertible in the tourism market.

We only have the Jesuits to tell us how penitensiya started to become part of the Pinoy religio-cultural fabric. The Dominicans did not mention this act in their chronicles. If the Recoletos scourged themselves, flagellation could have become a hand-me-down religious practice from Bolinao to Subig, the boundary towns of the old Zambales province.

Fr Pedro Chirino, SJ (1604) tells us how the early converts in Leyte, Bohol and Cavite practiced their new religion with fervor especially during the Holy Week.  For example, this was how it was with the new Christians in the Jesuit missions in Alangalang and Carigara (in old Leyte, we suppose) --

"During Lent and Holy Week they performed their penances with great devotion, shedding their blood with such fervor that it became necessary to restrain them. So strong and ardent was their desire to do penance that those who could not procure woolen shirts would not go in the procession, waiting for those garments already stained with blood, in order that they might bathe these anew with their own. Nor was there less fervor among the children, who sought permission [to take the discipline], even at a very tender age, and became disconsolate indeed if it were denied them. These new Christians practiced another sort of penance during the last two weeks of Lent, which caused great edification. In the early evening they went out, clad in their woolen shirts; their hands extended in the form of a cross, were bound to a piece of wood; and from each hand hung a very heavy stone. In this manner they went about the village, halting finally at the church whence they had set out. There they remained a long time on their knees, offering their penance to God our Lord. The children had practiced this penance before; for during the Shrovetide festival (at which time there are so many disorders among our Christians of long standing) they formed themselves in pairs, and went forth with great devotion, having their hands extended, in the form of a cross, on a piece of wood, with heavy stones hanging at each side. For this purpose one child bound the other, accompanying him until he returned to the door of the church; there, unfastening the other's bonds, he himself took the stick and stones, and thus they again went forth, and he who had first borne the stones now accompanied the other. Thus did each one acquit his obligation to the other, with more devotion and understanding than the Shrovetide season demands from persons of greater age, judgment, and obligations."

What stuns us is the children's penitensiya.   "The most pleasing and touching sight [in Ogmuc (Ormoc?)]," Chirino wrote, "was to see all the children disciplining themselves with scourges which they themselves had made for that day [Holy Thursday]."  These children were in the "very devout procession" that was formed after the sermon in the afternoon services.

It may be farfetched but we get reminded of what's in the multimedia press lately, the far-from-pleasant penitensiya that children--mostly altar boys--suffered in the hands of Roman catholic priests in some parts of the world, although we have yet to hear of similar tales in a Philippine sacristy or convento.

It's back to the basics of Philippine Roman catholicsms during this Holy Week: pasyon sung in various musical genres, traditional to modern; processions of images--antique and newly carved by Betis or Paite artisans--mounted on carrozas decorated by the town's gaggle of gays like floats for Baguio's Panagbenga Festival; and of course, the penitensiya of Good Friday. 

The early Pinoy Christians "were very careful in attending church," Chirino wrote, "and devout in confessing, especially during that first Lent; and showed great fervor in disciplining themselves, particularly during Holy Week; in the procession on that occasion there were many who scourged themselves until the blood came, and still others accompanied them, bearing four hundred lights, all preserving great silence and order."

Silence and order!  Barangay Cutod, it's hoopla time, the tourists are coming!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Graduation Events in Iba, Zambales in 1915

This time of the year is busiest at Philippine schools. It's graduation time, and many a valedictory address would describe it as time for sadness (bye, bye to friends and dear alma mater!), and of joy (all ready to move on!) and thanksgiving (profuse gratitudes to parents and teachers for making this day possible!).

These days, we hear of debates on graduation fees, and protests as well, and the Department of Education has repeatedly announced that collection of such fees are not allowed. 

We do not know if graduation was an expensive rite in the early years of the public education system set up by the Americans in the 1900s.  American teachers were all over the place; the first Filipino school principal got to be appointed only in 1915.  The curricula were certainly different then; pupils could even qualify to teach once they finish fourth grade of the elementary school if they were enrolled in the normal curriculum.

How did they hold graduation ceremonies?  Were their programs structured the way we are now familiar with--doxology, national anthems, valedictory and salutatory addresses, presentation of candidates for graduation and their confirmation, awarding of medals/diplomas, pledges of loyalty to alumni association and dear alma mater?  Did distinguished persons and politicians vie to be guest speakers? Were graduates bedecked with leis of ilang-ilang, kamia and sampaguita --even everlasting garlands from Baguio's souvenir market--by friends and relatives after the ceremonies? When did kodakan start to become a must-do?

This picture taken from a book by Mary Helen Fee published in 1912 shows a typical class of Filipino students around that time.

We got hold of an article in the monthly magazine Philippine Education (which later evolved into the Philippine Magazine) on the graduation exercises in Iba in 1915. 

Compared to today's long and sometimes boring graduation rites, the Zambales correspondent was reporting of entertainment and dancing to honor graduates.  He was so faithful in his coverage that he even had to denote where the speaker was interrupted with applause in his brief remarks. 

Here's the full report (you'll be amused how different it was then) --

"The teachers of the Iba primary school gave an entertainment and dance in honor of the graduating class of the Iba central school in the Zambales high school March 31, 1915, 7:00 p. m. The program was of sufficient merit to attract an increasing number of visitors from among the parents. The music under the direction of Misses Anacleta Venzon and Marcelina Miclat; the selection and the recitations of seven small boys and eight small girls greatly added to the excellence of the performance. The success of the entertainment was due to the painstaking efforts of all the teachers and their active supervising teacher. Mr. Adam C. Derkum, the division superintendent of schools for Zambales, after awarding the certificates to the pupils concerned, addressed the graduating class, giving stimulating advice and pointing out to the young graduates the right path to follow. In his remarks, he said, in part: "The clear and distinct singing and speaking of the small boys and girls have won my heart. I believe that Zambales will be the first English speaking division of all the divisions in the Philippine Islands. (Applause.) Thus, it means that the larger part of the future young leaders and assembly men will be from Zambales. (Applause.) When you look at the official roster you will find that the greater number of the younger men working in any departmental office in Manila will be from Zambales. (Applause.) The only province in which all the supervising teachers are Filipinos, is Zambales." (Applause.)

"Mr. and Mrs. Adam C. Derkum, who requested a transfer from the division of Zambales to a more accessible division, have been succeeded by Mr. and Mrs. William S. Fickes, who were teachers of the provincial high school of' Albay. The teachers in Zambales express regret at the departure of Mr. and Mrs. Adam C. Derkum who are now stationed in the province of Tarlac.

"On the 23d of April a social gathering and dance was held in the house of Mr. Maximo Abrigo, under the direction of Mr. Raymundo de Castro, teacher of the provincial high school at Iba and Mr. Luis Ruanto, division chief clerk, in honor of the departure of Mr. and Mrs. Adam C. Derkum. Several prominent officials attended the dance.

"The director of education has approved the establishment of a third year secondary class at the Zambales high school. This class will probably have an attendance of 39 students at the opening on June 14th. The establishment of this class is largely due to the strong recommendation of Mr. Adam C. Derkum.

"On March 27, a farewell dance was given by the Zambales agricultural club in the hall of the high school in honor of the departure of Mr. Donald T. Sayre, principal of the Iba farm school.

"In the final corn report for corn-growing contest No. 2 of the 1914 corn campaign, the judges declared the winners as follows: First place, Demetrio Felix, Iba farm; second, Jacinto Esmele, Iba farm; third, Cesario Villanueva, Iba farm; fourth, Pedro Melchor, Cabangan central school; fifth, Ildefonso Fulgar, San Narciso central school.

"On Monday night, March 29, 1915, the "Excelsior Literary Society of 1915" rendered an unusually gratifying program. The musical portion of the program was a success in every respect. A solo by Miss Juana Felix was pleasing on Tuesday, March 30 a formal dance was given also by the same society in honor of the seventh grade graduating class in the hall of the high school. Prominent officials attended the dance.

"At the commencement exercises of the Iba farm school and the intermediate department of the high school, Wednesday evening, March 31st, an uncommonly pleasing program was rendered. The music under the direction of Mr. Raymundo de Castro was carried out to a high standard of excellence both in the orchstral selections and in the choruses of the graduating classes."

There were winners in the corn growing contest, but how come there were no top ten of the class to be honored?


Report. (1915, July). Zambales. The Philippine Education. Manila: Philippine Education Co., Inc. 12(1):36. Retrieved from of the University of Michigan collection "The United States and its Territories, 1870-1925: The Age of Imperialism."

Photo source:  Fee, Mary H. (1912). A woman's impressions of the Philippines. Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co.  Retrieved from of the University of Michigan collection "The United States and its Territories, 1870-1925: The Age of Imperialism."

Going to Kalibo and Capiz schools in the early 1900s

The 'Thomasites' will forever be in the history of Philippine education, they who arrived in our country on August 12, 1901 to implement the new public school sytem with English as the medium of instruction, and to train the Filipino teachers handle the new curriculum.

Ralph Kent Buckland was not a Thomasite.  He called their batch of American teachers the "Dorics" because they came here on board the USS Doric in December 1903.  This is the same ship that, on one of its return journeys to the United States, carried the first 15 "sakadas" to work in one of the plantations in Hawaii in December 1906 (Kreifels 1998).

There could have been other ships that arrived here with American teachers on board. But just like Buckland and the other Dorics, they do not figure as prominently in Philippine history as the Thomasites.
After reading his book, one gets the impression that he was not happy during the whole time he stayed "In the land of the Filipino" (1912).  As soon as he stepped out of the ship, he started complaining--food, hygiene, accommodations, etcetera.  His destination was Calivo (Kalibo today), and he was dismayed that their lodging had not been arranged--he was dismayed that American teachers who've been there for some time were hesitant to take them in temporarily.

He was not happy with the state of education of the Calivo people; he was dismayed that parents would rather have their pupils work rather than go to school; he complained about students memorizing lessons in English without understanding the meaning of words and terms. This was how his first day in the Calivo school was --

"As soon as we had breakfasted, B. [his supervisor] and I went over to the schoolhouse. The native teacher caught a glimpse of us while we were still far down the street. He rang his bell, and the hundred or so of children, all ages and sizes, crowded through the, door of the schoolhouse without any attempt at forming a line or of maintaining any order whatever. They all screamed, "El maestro, El maestro," as they piled in through the door to their seats. Perhaps the teacher did make an effort to enforce discipline. I can't say for sure; for I was too far down the street to make out more than the hustle and tussle of the run to get seats in the very front row.

"However, all was still as a mouse as we neared the schoolhouse door. There was not a whisper nor any nervous shuffling of the feet as with most children. Evidently, the pupils were all seated, awaiting breathlessly our appearance before them. They were in their seats and they all popped up like jacks-in-the-box and welcomed us with a thundering "Good morning, t'cher!" —accent heavy on the last syllable-as soon as they caught sight of us in the doorway. I had not expected such an ovation. An embarrassed flush rushed to my cheeks. B., by way of general introduction, said: "This is your new teacher," glancing toward me. Again, the whole school, as though moved by one spring, jumped up. A perfectly deafening "Good morning, t'cher!" rang out. After B. had told me where the lessons were, he left me in charge of the most advanced class. This class had been under two American teachers the year previous, each for a month or two at a time, and had been under B. for the last two months; so that the members of the class could hardly be expected to be very far along in their work. Almost all the arithmetic within their grasp had been learned in the Spanish language under the old regime; their English as a medium through which to express their ideas amounted almost to nothing at all. In arithmetic, they were in long division; but they were miserably grounded. They could scarcely do anything even with short division. They were not at all sure or quick in their product tables, and they could not carry very well in addition nor borrow very well in subtraction. In the solving of problems, they were completely at sea, partly because of the English, partly because of a natural slowness to see into things clearly, that is along the line of problems. … And their English! They could read fairly well in the second reader, Baldwin's; but, although they pronounced the words, passably at least, they had not even the faintest idea of what they were reading about."

That could very well be how it was when the first American teacher appeared in any public school throughout the Philippine archipelago.

We would like to think though that Buckland was writing only of his initial impressions. He was there when the normal schools in Capiz and Calivo were set up.  He was disappointed that only two of their first teacher graduates passed qualifying tests but there could have been improvements, only that he never wrote about such happy events "in the land of the Filipinos."

The photographs in the book though are very interesting--class pictures and photographs taken during a graduation ceremony in the 1900s.  These could very well say that, after the initial drawbacks, public education in Calivo and Capiz turned out to be as beautiful as the people in the photographs. 


Buckland, Ralph Kent. (c1912). In the Land of the Filipino. New York: Every where publishing company. Retrieved from of the University of Michigan collection "The United States and its Territories,1870-1925: The Age of Imperialism".

Kreifels, Susan. (1998, June 10). Filipinos celebrate how far they've come. Honolulu Star-Bulletin Article. Retrieved from