BULACAN: A cradle of heroes and artists


Nick Lizaso Column Box
Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso,
CCP president and NCCA chairman

I am a native son of Bulacan, the town of Sta. Maria to be more specific. So if I seem to be superfluous or excessive in the way I speak about the province, I hope you will forgive me. 

There are so many things of interest about this province that can amaze even a true-bred Bulakenyo like me. History, culture, art, cuisine, language, agriculture—you will never run out of topics when you dwell on Bulacan.

Many of us are already familiar about Bulacan’s place in our history. This is the birthplace of heroes such as Marcelo H. Del Pilar and Gen. Gregorio del Pilar. This is the site of the three Revolutionary Republics: the Kakarong Republic of 1896, the Biak-na-Bato Republic of 1897, and the Malolos Republic of 1899. I won’t dwell anymore on these historical facts because they have been told already too often. 

For those who are not into reading, you can get a sense of Bulacan’s history in one sweeping glance by going to Malolos City. There is a large mural called “Kasaysayan ng Bulacan” inside the lobby of the Gat. Blas F Ople Hall-Sentro ng Kabataan Sining at Kultura. This mural portrays the colorful elements of Bulacan’s history as well as our nation’s in one grand tableau. Created in 1976, the “Kasaysayan ng Bulacan” mural is a masterpiece by Amadeo Manalad, a well-known muralist who is the pride of Bulacan.

One element colorfully depicted in the mural are the famous festivals celebrated in the province, such as the Libad festival of Calumpit, the Carabao Festival of Pulilan, Fertility Rituals of Obando, Horse Festival of Plaridel, Pagoda sa Wawa of Bocaue, and many other feasts held year round. 

Speaking of festivals, the province’s main festival is the “Singkaban Fiesta,” which is relatively recent and is held in the second week of September. Singkaban is the term for the decorative arch that serves as the festival icon because the sight of which inspires a celebratory mood. Singkaban has also come to mean “sining at kalinangan ng Bulacan.” Thus, the event aims to showcase the best of the province in terms of history, arts, culture, food and delicacies, and its hospitable people. 

What is amazing about Bulacan is that it is such a fertile land for the blooming of the arts. The fact that Bulacan came from the word bulaklak says something about its fertility. Early Spanish colonizers were moved to call this piece of land Jardin de Filipinas upon seeing so much vegetation in this area just a few miles north of Manila. Let a hundred flowers bloom, said the great Chinese helmsman. In Bulacan this blooming really happened. Not only with flowers but in culture and the arts. 

For one, Bulacan is the cradle of the country’s most celebrated literary giants who elevated Tagalog literature to greatness, such as Francisco Balagtas and Jose Corazon de Jesus who also popularly known as Huseng Batute. Bulacan gave birth to the first Tagalog novel “Nena at Neneng,” written in 1905 by Valeriano Hernandez-Peña. The masterful Macario Pineda wrote literary pieces in Tagalog that paint masterful renditions of local color that “invite us to reflect on the ideas of inheritance, history, time, and heart,” as one critic puts it.

In my hometown of Sta, Maria alone, we have two celebrated artists: Jose Corazon de Jesus, who is my grand uncle, and Francisco Santiago, the musical composer. This duo gave us the immortal kundiman “Bayan Ko,” which is second only to our national anthem “Lupang Hinirang” in popularity.

In the field of theater and performing arts, Severino Reyes, the father of local zarzuela, grew up here. One of the most  accomplished performers of this theater genre was another Bulakenyo: Hermogenes Ilagan, who sired 13 children, many of whom became artists in cinema like Gerry de Leon, Tito Arevalo, and Angel Esmeralda, and third generation Robert Arevalo, Liberty Ilagan, and Jay Ilagan.

On record, Bulacan has the country’s biggest concentration of National Artists, either born here or who trace their ancestry to the province. At the risk of sounding like a boastful name dropper, I am only too glad to name them anyway: Francisca Reyes Aquino for Dance, Amado V. Hernández and Virgilio Almario for Literature, Guillermo Tolentino for Sculpture, Gerardo de Leon for Cinema, Honorata Atang dela Rama for Theater and Music. In music composition, there are three National Artists:  Francisco Santiago, Col. Antonino Buenaventura, and Ernani Cuenco. I would also include National Artists Levi Celerio and Ramon Santos, both of whom have roots in Bulacan.   

Other prominent artists who hail from Bulacan are musician and composer Francisco Buencamino, concert pianist Cecile Licad (a descendant of Francisco Buencamino), Narcisa Doña Sisang de Leon of LVN fame, Felipe de Leon, Willy Buencamino Cruz, composers Lorie Ilustre and Nonong Buencamino. Last but not least is the current governor, Daniel Fernando, who was a talented artist from the film world before he ventured into public service.

Continuing this greatness are younger artists from the field of pop music like Rey Valera, Regine Velasquez, Jamie Rivera, and pop idols such as Angel Locsin, Maine Mendoza, Jolina Magdangal, Krystal Reyes, and others too many to mention here.

If Angono has its Botong, Blanco, and other groups of artists, Bulacan too has its own set of celebrated painters who are claimed by the province as its own: Fabian de la Rosa, Jose T. Joya, Mauro “Malang” Santos, Nestor Redondo, and the aforementioned muralist Amadeo Y. Manalad, a contemporary of Carlos Botong Francisco and Vicente Manasala. There’s a new generation of Bulakenyo visual artists who have grouped themselves under the name Lakas Sining ng Bulakan with over 100 members. Getting their inspiration from the past and the present, these talented artists have kept the torch alive for Bulacan in the field of visual arts by participating in group shows and international competitions. You can see some of their splendid works at the Singkaban Art Exhibit, which is part of the annual Singkaban festival. 

For a more satisfying fill of what Bulacan has to offer in culture and the arts, you can visit its numerous museums. A must destination is the Museo ng Bulacan (Bulacan Museum), the Barasoain Church, and the Museum in Malolos. 

Bulacan’s towns have their own respective museums such as the Bocaue Museum, which houses a collection of municipal antiques and a priceless array of artifacts that depict the town’s culture and traditions. There’s also the Baliwag Municipal Library and Museum, which is the official natural history and ethnography museum of Baliwag and Bulacan province. It’s actually a long list of municipal museums to keep you on your feet for weeks.

From music to literature to painting to cinema, Bulacan’s native artists have enriched our national cultural heritage. Their songs, paintings, sculptures, poems, novels, and their movies are now part of our nation’s cultural treasury.

What I included here is just the tip. As we call it, pahapyaw lang. Considering that Bulacan has 20 municipalities and 569 barangays, the visitor will never run out of what to see and what to discover in Bulacan to enhance his cultural quotient.