This year my hometown Mabalacat City will turn 311 and next week, on February 2, is the feast of the Presentation of the Child Jesus at the Temple of Jerusalem which coincides with the Purification of Our Lady (purification was a Jewish ritual for mothers 40 days after giving birth). The Marian image for this feast day is supposed to be the Virgin of Candlemas, or Virgen de la Candelaria with Our Lady holding a candle which was what the early Christians imagined she did during her purification at the Temple. But my town mates have chosen the image of Our Lady of Grace as the Marian representation for their fiesta, which is a little bit confusing because you will find images of Our Lady of Grace standing with outstretched hands, or standing while holding the Child Jesus (which is the processional image) and seated while holding the Child Jesus (which is the image at the church altar).

Anyway, if Mabalacat was founded 311 years ago, which was in 1712, that makes my hometown older than the other two cities of Pampanga (older than San Fernando by 42 years and older than Angeles by 117 years). There are, of course many other towns that are older than Mabalacat, like Macabebe, Apalit, Bacolor, Sasmuan, Candaba and Lubao, but Mabalacat is the only town in Pampanga founded by the Recollect missionaries (all the rest were founded by the Augustinian missionaries). While the original settlers in Mabalacat were the Aetas led by the chieftain Caragan, the present-day Mabalaqueños (or Mabalaquenians as the LGU says is the politically correct term) did not descend from the Aetas but from the migrants from other surrounding towns, most likely Bamban and Capas, founded only months earlier, in 1710 and 1711, respectively. If Angeles (Kuliat), San Fernando, and the present-day Magalang weren’t yet towns at the time, the most likely route of the north-bound migrating Kapampangans from the populous southern towns (Lubao, Sasmuan, Macabebe) was Porac.

Mabalacat became a city after a referendum held in July 2012, during the term of Mayor Marino Morales. There was a move at the time to call the new city Mabalacat Clark City owing to the absorption of almost all the land area of the Clark Freeport Zone (including its annual income of hundreds of millions of pesos) and I remember publicly voicing my vehement objection through my weekly column. One day Mayor Morales called me to say that he had decided to withdraw the plan because “as you know, Robby, I listen to suggestions.”

This year, Mabalacat, under Mayor Cris Garbo, who is also attentive to his people’s voices, will replace the Caragan Festival with the brand-new Balacat Festival, to finally erase the growing misconception that the ancestors of the people of Mabalacat were the Aetas. The new festival will instead promote the values of Mabalaqueños as hardy and resilient in the face of calamities and challenges—as symbolized by the balacat tree.