MACABEBE, Pampanga – This town southwest of Pampanga significantly played its role in shaping the destiny of the province and was even part of the nation’s colourful history.
Mayor Annette Flores-Balgan said it was from Macabebe that the Spaniards discovered Pampanga. She added that the nearby towns of Minalin and Masantol were then part of their town, which currently has 25 barangays and its land area is some 105 square kilometers.
Mayor Balgan, who spoke to Punto Central Luzon on her birthday on Sunday, said her people are primarily known for being brave and loyal.
“Not to mention very religious,” added Balgan, disclosing that about 90 percent of their total population of 70,777 (2010 census) are Roman Catholics.
Balgan said people always heard about Lapu-Lapu who fought the invading Spanish soldiers led by Ferdinand Magellan. She noted that it was Tarik Soliman of Macabebe though the first to give his life fighting against Spain in the battle of Bangkusay in 1571.
Historians regard Soliman as the country’s first Filipino martyr. Ancient Spanish chronicles described Soliman as “the brave youth from Macabebe.”
Soliman led more than 2,000 soldiers from Macabebe and nearby Bulacan in the war against invading Spaniards led by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi.
Going over history, Balgan said the Philippine scouts were born out of the Macabebe Scouts. She said the country’s scouts were commissioned by the United States Military in 1901 but it was the Macabebe Scouts that had been organized first.
A monument dedicated to the Macabebe Scouts stands in front of the town hall.
In and around the town plaza in Barangay San Gabriel, several markers were erected to honor other well-known children of Macabebe.
The marker of Philippine Jesuit Felipe Songsong is in front of the San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish Church. He is regarded to be the next and third Filipino saint, said Balgan.
Mayor Balgan is starting the construction of a museum for Vicente Silva Manansala, the first National Artist for visual arts. His marker is in front of the municipal hall but Balgan deemed “it’s not enough to honor one of the best-ever Filipino artists.”
Balgan disclosed that she is coordinating with the Holy Angel University (HAU) Center for Kapampangan Studies for her town to own some of the prized works of Manansala, who was known for his self-styled cubism.
The HAU recently opened the “The Vicente Manansala Collection” at its campus in Angeles City. It has more than 800 works of the late national artist – the biggest-ever collection of the Macabebe native.
Other works of Manansala are at the Honolulu Museum, Singapore Art Museum and the Philippine Center in New York City.
Catherine Flores, Macabebe tourism officer, said the P750,000 the town won at the recent trade fair organized by Gov. Lilia Pineda will be used for the Philippine-Spanish Friendship Plaza in Macabebe, also known as Plaza de la Amistad.
Balgan said the rationale behind the planned creation of the plaza is the recognition of the Spanish government of the contribution of Macabebe to the European nation’s history. She said Spain had named a street in Madrid as “Calle de Voluntarios Macabebes.”
“As a counterpart recognition, the municipality of Macabebe is planning to name the Plaza Batasan as Plaza de la Amistad ,” said Balgan. The area for the plaza is in Barangay San Francisco.
Macabebe is host to 6,000 hectares of fishponds. The majority of which – about 4,000 hectares – is in Barangay Consuelo.
The town is a major producer of shrimps and crabs and its fisherfolk harvest at least four times a year. Balgan said they export the aquatic products to the United States of America and Thailand.
Consuelo Barangay Chief Fernando Lopez said some three hectares produce about 45 coolers (containers) of shrimps. He added one cooler cost about P18,000.
“But that’s in a good harvest. It really depends,” said Lopez in the dialect. He showed to this reporter the mangroves in their barangay – the last of the remaining large concentration in Pampanga.
The other coastal villages – San Esteban and Dalayap — are where the fishponds are mostly located.
Balgan said “at least one-fourth of our total population” largely depend on the fishpond industry.
Gov. Pineda and Board Member Fritzie David-Dizon, who visited Balgan on January 31, both agreed that “the people of Macabebe are very kind and they serve good food.”
“Actually, the governor and I love to eat in Macabebe because they are one of the best cooks in the province and entertain very well their guests,” said David-Dizon.
Balgan said their recipes are largely influenced by Spanish cooking.
Macabebe is also major producer of religious images and displays. Most of the carvers are in Barangay Sta. Maria and Caduang Tete.
Gener Bautista, a former newsman and one of the most sought out religious and image makers in Caduang Tete, said he employs at least 10 workers in his factory at their house. He said their production depends on their orders from both local and abroad.
Balgan said they used to have massive production of children’s clothes. But it ended abruptly when the American military left its base in Clark, Pampanga in the early ‘90s.
Balgan said she had helped others to cope with loss of the industry by introducing the production of “bayong (baskets).”
“And little by little we get orders of gloves again,” she added.
Macabebe, one of the 18 towns of Pampanga, is also known to have sent many to work and base permanently in the USA.
“We don’t have the exact data of the number of our people in the USA. But there is a joke in our place that every fourth house in our streets have someone in the US,” said Balgan.
The mayor, who is unopposed for the 2013 elections, said that their people had also thrived in buy-and-sell of jewellery.
Balgan said several of the prominent jewellers in nearby Apalit town are from Macabebe.
“We are known to be hardworking people,” she added.
Last January 17, Macabebe celebrated its founding anniversary with former Las Pinas Rep. Cynthia Villar as special guest.
Balgan decided not to ask students from high school and elementary schools to join the parade and other events related to the celebration.
“Classes were suspended for at least two months last year due to floods. I don’t want to disturb their classes.
They have to report even Saturdays to make up for the lost times,” said Balgan. Her granddaughter, 18-year-old San Beda College dean’s lister Justine Michelle Balgan, was adjudged recently as first-runnerup of Miss Pampanga contest.
Asked if they are adversely affected by the perennial flooding in their town, Balgan quickly answered back: “No, we are not. We are even enjoying.”
“Who would be lonely when we catch fish and shrimps just about everywhere and even in streets,” said Balgan, a former school teacher.