Founder of Asia’s oldest trade school gets attention
PORAC, Pampanga—All these years, the remains of Don Felino Gil, one of the two founders of what is regarded as the oldest vocational school in Asia, had lain under hand-painted tiles behind the altar of a chapel he built on a hill here.
That structure, by the reckoning of a member of the Philippine National Historical Society, is the oldest, lone-standing circular chapel in the country.
On Friday, however, Gil‘s final resting place was given special attention. For the first time, officials of the Don Honorio Ventura Technological State University (DHVTSU) came to pay him respect right where he was buried.
This belated reconnecting, said Dr. Enrique Baking, DHVTSU president, began through the Inquirer.
“It served as the key that opened the door toward the acquisition of new learning about Don Felino Gil,” Baking said during a program in Barangay (village) Pio where the chapel stands. The occasion was the university’s 150th founding anniversary.
Ralph John Eigenmann, a descendant of Gil, was represented by the ancestral house’s caretaker, Salvador Pabustan.
During a journalism workshop at DHVTSU in September, the Inquirer shared the information that Gil’s remains were buried behind the altar of the Pio chapel.
This correspondent obtained the information when it featured the campaign of Pio residents to oppose a plan by antique dealers to sell the chapel to Jerry Acuzar who, in 2004, began developing his Las Casas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan. The estate hosts a collection of old houses and structures, an undertaking funded by Acuzar, a real estate businessman.
Acuzar said he was not anymore interested about the chapel when he learned how the community valued it. The family’s representatives said they were not selling the chapel.
Although privately owned, the chapel is used by the community for spiritual and socio-civic affairs. The Archdiocese of San Fernando, Pampanga, celebrates Masses there every Saturday, said Fr. Rengel Fuertez.
A marble tablet with a damaged marble cross stands across the burial ground. Hidden from view by an altar, the tablet is dated 1886. Aside from stating the dates of birth (1804) and death (1883) of Gil, it stated that he was the fundador (founder) of the “Colegios de Bacolor y Guagua,” aside from the Gil estate and chapel.
Documents kept by DHVTSU showed that Gil and Augustinian priest Juan Zita founded the “Escuela de Artes y Oficios de Bacolor” on Nov. 4, 1861, on a site donated by the Suarez sisters of Bacolor.
Bacolor, by that time, was the capital of Pampanga until 1904. Gil built the chapel also in 1861.
For the school‘s 150th anniversary, Baking said an extension campus would be built a few kilometers away from the chapel.
Porac Mayor Conradlito de la Cruz said two donors gave a hectare of land to start the extension campus for poor students.
Jack Rubi, Pio village chief, said he knew all along that Gil was buried in the chapel but did not know he founded a school. “We have a gem in our village but we did not know,” Rubi said.
He told the crowd that the community loves the chapel because they give time to clean it and funds to maintain and repair it.
Over the years, the school went by the names Trade School, Poor Man‘s College, Bacolor Trade School, Pampanga Trade School, Regional School of Arts and Trades, and Pampanga School of Arts and Trades.
President Diosdado Macapagal renamed it in 1964 as the Don Honorio Ventura Memorial School of Arts and Trades after the man who supported his education.
Former Pampanga Governor Estelito Mendoza worked to convert it into a state college in 1978.—Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon
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