Streets of San Fernando (1)

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Monday, August 27, 2012


THE recurring flooding of San Fernando in recent times is saddening to us graying people who nurture fond memories of a beloved town.

Those who know San Fernando of old find it difficult to reconcile their remembrances of a once peaceful and lovable community to its present squalor, the heavy traffic and Moro émigrés.

Its material success brought about by its conversion to cityhood had overcome what was a wondrous town of graceful, unhurried life. In those bygone years, Fernandinos were a charitable people. They did not keep up with the Joneses so to speak, they welcomed them. It is not so today, so I heard, as the city’s biggest social, “El Circulo Fernandino” has its own core elite group within the circle of noveau riche and noveau pauvre.

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Consunji Street, once a tranquil stretch of road distinguished by its sedate neighborhood and legacy houses is now a sclerotic artery. It seems to nearly burst with its chaotic traffic.

This particular street is special to my memory because it represented the best in the cultural, social, and political life of the Fernandinos.

To my hazy reckoning Consunji Street traverses the strip from the old MacArthur Highway beyond Virgen delos Remedios hospital to the north and its terminus at the site of the former Essel Supermarket fronting the historic Lazatin mansion to the south.

A large, stately residence of the celebrated landed gentry of the era, the mansion served as headquarters Lt. Gen. Masaharu Homma of the Japanese 14th Army. Homma planned the invasion of Bataan in this house.

Recalling frightful stories of guerrilla leaders tortured or killed in that compound and adjacent houses raised goose bumps to the young boy who used to pass the house on his way to the “Pampanga” renamed Aurora theater.

The ancient houses of Consunji Street still stand there as if mute testament to the town’s old glory. On cold nights the structures now feature their faded charm like an aging widow who was once a lovely maiden under the moonlight of a lost era.

At this street are sited the leading branches of major banks. The PNB since its privatization had lost the long lines of clients making it the beehive of banking transactions in its prime.

The old post office was on the right roadside parallel the river. It is long gone but a landmark structure, the Methodist church, is still there. On Sunday services you can still hear faint strains of ‘Rock of Ages’ and ‘Thou Great Thou Art’ straying to the chaotic street outside.

Pampanga Hotel, once the queen of hotel-restaurants in the province is now in certain decay. It looks desolate but survived Pinatubo and decades of local dissidence and fractious politics as it competes with modern dining establishments in the city.

The hotel was the unofficial house of the Pampanga Press Club. It was the media’s watering hole until 1970 when Mr. Chan, its Chinese owner, suffered a stroke after some stress aggravated, so I heard, by media members and public officials who welshed on their mounting bills in food and drinks.

Across the hotel is the domed Catholic Church. Now a cathedral it occupies corner lots of Consunji and Gen. Hizon streets. The church is memorable to me. As a young man I used to attend the Wednesday novenas for the Mother of Perpetual Help. The miraculous icon has granted all my fervent wishes. I stopped my devotion for fear that I might ask for the wrong things and the Lady would grant them.

In those days, motels and drive-in establishments were not extant unlike in Angeles. Illicit lovers found Pampanga Hotel a most convenient and accessible love nest. I knew of many couples of mixed civil status who would at first go to the nearby church to fulfill their Sunday obligations and presumably ask for blessings and forgiveness.

Thereafter they walked across the street, enter the hotel, and order softdrinks at the dining hall. Soon they would repair upstairs on a curtained stairway for their tryst.

The hotel rooms on the second floor face the street busy with “calesa” traffic. A fellow Cursillista once took his date to a dingy upper room which had a view of the church some 20 meters away.

Now on his undershirt, he decided to take a smoke by a half-closed window. Soon he heard a voice from the church as sermons then were amplified to reach passersby. It was the voice of priest-rollista Msgr. Lorenzo, he said, who threatened sinners of the flesh with rain of brimstone and fire.

His sinful agenda was scuttled by the priest’s malediction, he rued.

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on August 27, 2012.

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