THIS year, 2010, is the centennial anniversary of two unforgettable Kapampangans, Diosdado "Dadong" Macapagal of Lubao and Vicente "Enteng" Manansala of Macabebe, both born in 1910, both artists (Macapagal a zarzuelista, Manansala a painter), and both extremely poor in early life but rose to greatness and immortality through sheer force of talent and strength of character.

At a time when Kapampangans are still reeling from all the bad publicity generated by President Arroyo's Congress run and Governor Panlilio's impending recount loss, we should probably turn to these two Cabalen for relief and redemption.

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Together they embody what's best in Kapampangans as a people: their creativity, their industriousness and their ability to transcend bad situations.

To really appreciate the heights of greatness that these two men achieved in later life, we must first understand the depths of indigence they had been born into.

Both had practically nothing in life to start with: Macapagal's mother was a laundrywoman, the eldest daughter of share tenants (casamac), while Manansala's father was a moviehouse porter turned barber.

Macapagal was a sickly boy who often walked to school barefoot so that his shoes would last longer. Manansala, on the other hand, mostly worked instead of played, first as a bootblack (shoeshine boy), then newsboy, then golf caddy, then moviehouse usher.

But Dadong and Enteng had one privilege not enjoyed by most other poor children: they both lived in the company of artists.

Dadong had Urbano Macapagal for a father-one of the greatest Kapampangan zarzuelistas of his generation-so he was constantly surrounded by actors, playwrights and stagehands, constantly moving from one town fiesta to another for late-night-till-wee-hours performances, and constantly exposed to the power of oratory and the nuances of fine acting.

Enteng, on the other hand, moved with the entire family to Legaspi Street in Intramuros, a neighborhood teeming with politicians, churchmen, artists and rich patrons, where his father barbered for the likes of Claro M. Recto and Elpidio Quirino, and where Enteng soon apprenticed in art studios, enrolled in a school of fine arts and mounted small exhibits with friends like Botong Francisco.

Dadong, like Enteng, left Pampanga for Manila. He went to a law school but returned home after running short of funds and collapsing from exhaustion and malnutrition. He spent the next year raising money by acting on stage with town mate Rogelio de la Rosa. His luck changed when he met a philanthropist from Bacolor, Don Honorio Ventura, who gave him a scholarship.

Macapagal and Manansala succeeded in life because they sharpened their mind and honed their talent unrelentingly, almost obsessively.

After Macapagal topped the bar in 1936, you'd think he'd capitalize on it and grab the juicy offers from the big law firms.

Instead, he continued his studies and earned two more doctorates (economics and civil law). He joined politics after World War II by running for Congressman of Pampanga's Second District, against the only socialist elected to Congress at the time, his friend and fellow poet Amado Yuzon of Guagua.

Pampanga had not seen-nor will ever see again-an electoral contest as cordial, as entertaining and as inspiring as that contest between the two renaissance men, who regaled their rally audiences with poetical rather than political speeches.

Manansala also slowly worked his way to the top, joining art competitions (where his wins were as many as his losses) and selling his paintings for a pittance (Salvador P. Lopez once bought a painting for P30 payable in six installments, and Emmanuel Pelaez once commissioned him to do a portrait for P15, which he never fully paid).

The most popular painters at the time were Fabian de la Rosa and Fernando Amorsolo. Manansala was a young upstart who got a stinging rebuke early on when noted critic Jose Garcia Villa called his painting style "false art and bad art." Instead of retreating to a corner to lick his wound, Manansala painted on, bearing his pain with grace and humility, until Villa recanted.

I think, however, that the most striking and intriguing thing about Macapagal and Manansala is that when they finally reached the top, they both chose to remain poor.

Macapagal was the poorest Filipino ever elected to the presidency (in 1961); he was also the only President who remained poor throughout, and even after, his presidency. Feeling kinship with the country's poor, he promised to eradicate poverty during his term (starting with the land reform program) and was heartbroken that when he stepped down, he felt he had not yet done enough. He admitted later in life that his incorruptibility, his distaste for wealth and his "quixotic" idealism had reduced his effectiveness as president.

Manansala also remained poor because, unlike his other painter friends who accepted teaching and advertising jobs to pay the bills, he chose to devote all his time to painting because, he said, Art is a jealous muse: "One must live it fully; there is nothing halfway about it. To be an Artist is to experience everything and to feel every emotion possible." (He was posthumously conferred, in 1991, the highest honor a Filipino artist can achieve: the National Artist Award.)

Kapampangans today who are obsessed with getting rich will probably never understand why Macapagal and Manansala chose poverty even when they had easy access to big money.

I think I know why. Dadong and Enteng had had a happy childhood despite their poverty. On their way to the top, they saw what price they needed to pay to gain fame and fortune-the wheeling and the dealing in the rough-and-tumble world of politics and art auctions-and decided it wasn't worth it.

They had probably found, hidden from the rest of us, the connection between poverty and happiness, and decided to stay there.