Former ‘sin city’ finds ‘saintly’ way to honor dead

/ 01:17 AM October 31, 2012

ANGELES CITY—In this bustling urban center, once known as a “sin city” for its raunchy bars that catered to US forces who were stationed at the air base here, educators and church leaders are working to change the concept of remembering the dead.

During a celebration at Holy Angel University (HAU) last week, there was no depiction of sin or evil. Instead, “angels” and “saints” dominated a procession for All Saints’ Day.


Parents dressed up their children in the tradition of the holy and martyred men and women of the Catholic Church, bringing back the saints to All Saints’ Day.

“Reeducation” was how Mercy Bernarte-Gamboa, HAU grade school principal, described the way of observing All Saints’ Day in a city placed by its founder, Don Angel Pantaleon de Miranda, under the protection of the Holy Guardian Angels.


“This is a changing concept of Halloween. It’s not scary anymore,” Gamboa said. The real aim, she said, was to revive the devotion to saints.

Bishop David’s initiative

The parish, led by Pampanga Auxiliary Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, initiated the change last year.

The stress on saints was an effort to revive a tradition and do away with the Filipinos’ adaptation of the Western Halloween (or All Hallows’ Eve) that “commercialized or paganized” the event, said Robby Tantingco, executive director of HAU’s Center for Kapampangan Studies (CKS).

Trick or treat retained

The school, however, retained the “trick or treat” portion of the Western holiday. Children went to offices to which they were assigned, receiving goodies, like chocolates and candies.

Cely David dressed up her daughter Marielle, 6, as St. Rose of Lima, Peru, when they joined the procession at HAU, keeping up with the guidance of Holy Rosary Parish.


In the Philippines, All Saints’ Day is observed on the day intended for undas (All Souls’ Day).

“We agreed on St. Rose because at a young age, she lived a holy life,” David said, adding that she and Marielle spent time together searching the Internet for information on saints and their lives.

“She learned. I learned,” the mother said.

At least 615 children turned up for the event, wearing improvised getups and props to emulate their favorite saints. Joshua Kahlil Barion came as St. Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint.

10,000 saints

Catholics have around 10,000 saints, according to

In an effort to make saints popular again, CKS published the book “Gale at Gosu (Hymns and Songs)” by former priest Crispin Cadiang. The “gosu” is sung for patron saints on their feast days and All Saints’ Day.

Cadiang had composed 461 liturgical songs, among them “Ibpa Mi (Our Father).”

House-to-house singing

The Kapampangan, who converted to Christianity during the Spanish colonial period, practiced the “maggosu” by hopping from one house to another to sing, and in return receive money, live chicken or vegetables from the household. The money is then used to buy candles for the dead.

The Tagalog version of this tradition is called “pangangaluluwa,” Tantingco said.

New compositions

Because there were no written or audio recordings of the gosu, Cadiang said he produced 175 new compositions using Kapampangan melodic patterns for the patron saints of 19 towns and three cities in Pampanga—Holy Rosary Parish, Our Lord of Sepulcher and Blessed Virgin Mary—and the guardian angels.

Each song comes with musical notes to help popularize the gosu in parishes, schools and homes.

Aguman Talasulat Capampangan (Agtaca or Fraternity of Capampangan Writers) has revived the gosu since 2006.

Poet laureate Felix Garcia said the gosu diminished in popularity during the years when Pampanga lived through curfews and military operations of World War II, the peasant rebellions of the 1950s and martial rule of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

Following a Catholic tradition, Agtaca proceeds from house to house nine days before All Saints’ Day.

Poets, singers

The group is composed of Garcia, poetess laureate Ofrecinia de la Peña, poet laureate Antonio Galang, veteran zarzuela actor Fernando Viray, the “prince of poets” Romeo Rodriguez, poet Justiniano Mallari, two singers and a guitarist.

De la Peña said she sang the gosu when she was 7 or 8 years old, with her three brothers.

“The heads of the families gave us 20 to 50 centavos, which was a hefty sum then. The limus (alms) went to the parish as Mass offerings or to buy candles or food during the nights of prayers,” she said.

De la Peña, Garcia and Galang said writers and singers never got any training from the Church or the parish priest on how to do the gosu.

“It appeared to be a secular initiative,” Garcia said.

Old composition

An old composition, titled “Bininiagan” or Christian, has references to God, the Bible, the Virgin Mary and religious beliefs. Written in verse, it usually has eight to 12 syllables per line. A stanza has four lines and a gosu can run up to 16 stanzas.

One popular gosu stanza says: “Luguran ta’ la ding mabye / Luguran la namang mete / King bista’t ala no keti / Ta’ no ketang aliwang bie (Let’s love the living / Let’s love the dead / They have departed / And left for another life).”

The revived set of gosu uses slow, mournful melodies.

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