“Pamuhay-muhay Bulaneño”

By: Antonio “Tonyboy” G. Gilana

(circa  2009)

Ah, how times have changed!

Pista sa Gadan or, the celebration of All Saints’Day and the commemoration of All Souls’ Day in Bulan, has changed in many ways, although the meaning deeply remains: we honor our dead, our departed loved ones.

Pista sa Gadan are those two most busy days of November in Catholic Bulan. Both All Saints’ and All Souls’ days are interchanged, intertwined, have the same meaning. A Filipino tradition so embedded in our culture, Bulanenos consider it as a family affair and cannot do without it, of course exempting the other sects and religions. Those who are away from home, if they can, always come home.

Notorious a date was Pista sa Gadan also in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, when people commented the next morning, “Aw, Pista sa Gadan, sigurado may gadan man.” Meaning, a soul or two must have met death on that day because the protagonists may have met each other right smack in the crowded Kamposanto or Sibil, settling old grudges, or a sharp stare may have triggered the machismo, and the balisong or punyal provides the bloody conclusion. It happened almost every year. But this is a rarety now, not much anymore. Sometimes petty quarrels break out caused by teen gangs, but the police are everywhere, the Tanods too, and many other civic volunteers.

And the papel de hapon flowers are no longer as plentiful as before. With travel so easy, flowers from as far as Baguio and Dangwa all have reached Bulan. A few enterprising souls still vend hand-made paper flowers along the roads to the cemeteries in Zone 8 (formerly Loyo). But downtown, near the Freedom Park (Plaza Rizal), fresh flowers brought by outsiders are sold just like hotcakes. The most beautiful and most expensive are also status symbols. And many Bulanenos are now learning about the cutflower trade, and they have joined the fray every Pista sa Gadan to earn a few pesos.

In the olden days, families lovingly designed, crafted and created their own paper flowers to offer the dead. Bulanenos bought their papel de hapon from the Chinese traders in town, cut down a small banana plant, chop the soft body to some desired size to serve as a round base and into it stick the paper flower stem made rigid by an alambre dulce. Of course fresh flowers are better, but this is an indication of the times. Bulanenos, just like many other peoples all over the world are into instant things –instant coffee, instant noodles, instant flowers.

Today, Pista sa Gadan has taken on a more celebratory character. Families and friends bring along components, cards, guitars and food and drinks, and they socialize together at the tombs of their dead, up to the wee hours, when weather permits. In some other places, they bring along a whole videoke or karaoke set. It’s party time at the cemetery. Pista sa Gadan has also its economic and commercial side. A good number of Bulanenos earn fast bucks especially by those who sell all sorts of consumables, and they line up the streets leading to the cemeteries.

Those who do not have their dead at the cemeteries, or who cannot anymore locate the tombs of their dead light their candles, as was customary, at the Krus na Itom, located at the intersection of T. De Castro (formerly, Mclane Street) and Banase Road (now, San Vicente Ferrer), or at the chapel in the Romano, or cross at the Civil Cemetery.

There seems to be more children and young people in the Bulan cemeteries today. The Manila-bred people, or Bulanenos who have been in Manila for quite a time, or the visitors, are no longer easy to spot. The Bakasyonistas are once more around, and you can identify them by their paler skins. But Bulanenos have also become more sophisticated in ways and manners, even those from the barrios. Everybody seems to possess a cellphone.

There are two cemeteries in the Bulan Poblacion. One is the Bulan Civil Cemetery (Sibil) managed by the Local Government Unit, the other the Roman Catholic Cemetery (Romano), owned by the Church. The latter replaced the old cemetery at Barangay Obrero, which has been occupied by people even before the Second World War and is now a residential area.

The first cemetery in Bulan was near or around the Banuang-Daan Intramuros (in what is now Immaculate Concepcion Subdivision) in 1801. Then in 1866, when the town was transferred to its present site, it was located in what is now Obrero. Then it was transferred to what is now the Kamposanto Romano. There are also two other cemeteries in Bulan, in Barangay Butag and in Barangay San Francisco.

It was told that between 1910 and 1914, there was a serious feud between the parish priest Padre Casiano De Vera and the Gerona Family, who were then the municipal leaders of Bulan. The De Veras and the Geronas were the most prominent political families of Bulan, just like the present De Castros and the Gotladeras and the Ginetes. The result was that the Geronas did not want to be buried in the Romano, so they donated this four-hectare lot to the Municipio to be used as a cemetery. This became the Sibil. The condition set was that all Geronas and their succeeding generations be given space in the cemetery. Now most of the Geronas, including the De Castros, who were grandchildren of the older Geronas, have their place in the western part of the Sibil. Both cemeteries are now congested.

The Catholic Church does not allow burial in the Romano of the dead who have not received the sacraments, especially of baptism and marriage, or non-members of the catholic church, or those who committed suicide or the unbaptized babies. The Sibil is the resting place of all others, especially of the Tsinoys. In earlier times, it was only in the Romano where masses and blessings of the dead were held, but no longer this time. They now say mass in the Sibil.

In the Sibil, one can find the monument to the Chinese Martyrs of 1942, Chinese businessmen and students who were shot by the Japanese in Gate on suspicion of being geurillas. Here also lies as the resting place of so many underground patriots, fighters and others , both identified and not, who were killed during the many military encounters in Bulan between 1972-76, and hastily buried. Tony Ariado and Fenito Guan are here, and so are our venerable teachers and brave soldiers. And one can easily identify the prominent clans of Bulan, to the west the Geronas, the Galiases, and the De Castros, to the eastern portion, the Gillegos and the Gotladeras. KR Asuncion, founder of the SLI, the first secondary school in Bulan, occupies a very prominent place near the main Sibil entrance. The rich Chinese clans have their mausoleums on the eastern side. The many other elder statesmen and leaders or prominent men and women of Bulan are in the Romano. Nanette Vytiaco, she with the beautiful epitaph on heroism, lies in the Romano.

Due to the overcrowding in the present cemeteries, and at the average of more than 400 deaths recorded every year since 1980, there are plans now by the Local Government Unit to find a new cemetery site. Health and sanitary officials think that it should be farther away from the town proper since Bulan is fast expanding. The sites may be in Santa Remedios farther to the north, or Lajong perhaps, or in Barangay Fabrica or Sigad. Indeed this is necessary.

It would be difficult however to persuade the public to completely remove the old cemeteries. For sure, there is a much history and greatness and sentimentality in our present cemeteries. At best, it would be good to find a new site, but the old cemeteries must remain and be beautified and be rehabilitated and have it transformed to cemetery parks. But this would cost millions of pesos to the local government unit, one we cannot, at the moment, afford.

Pista sa Gadan is a time-honored tradition among Filipinos, especially among Bulanenos. And our honoring of the dead is an expression of our culture, of the faith and hope and love that we have as a people, as a community. And despite the many changes brought about by the changing of the times, the dimension as it relates to our spirit, to our culture and to our being human remains the same.



Filed under History and Culture

7 responses to ““Pamuhay-muhay Bulaneño”

  1. To Tonyboy,

    I should say this is historical and nostalgic. The cemetery as a “living” document of Bulan’s past, a reflection of social and cultural changes.

    I’ve seen the congestion in Civil Cemetery- it’s “overpopulated”. It’s just right to think ahead and look for the locations of future cemeteries. But Bulan should keep the civil cemetery, clean and beautify it. It’s not only because our dead relatives are buried there but it is a part of Bulan history, of Bulan Local color, of Bulan identity- just like the Bulan Parish church, hence almost impossible to imagine Bulan without them. They could be destroyed as any other structures but this would cause a lot of pains and troubles among Bulaneños.

    On the practical side, one should look for solutions that would not drain the resources of the LGU. Transforming it to a park is a good option by removing the space – consuming old graves and mausoleums and re-burying the remains in the ground, no more graves or mausoleums, just a cross with a name on it. It’s more aesthetic this way and more space will be regained. Family graves should be put altogether in one place, one cross or tombstone and their names on it.

    I don’t see the need for those who have been dead for decades already to maintain their individual graves or mausoleums We should stop projecting to the other world the needs and categories of the living and let cemeteries be just a place to honor our dead Bulaneños.

    If communism did not function among the living, maybe this would function among the dead. No soul would protest this time of not possessing anything. And a classless cemetery does not conflict with my imagination than the other way around.

    jun asuncion

    • Ramil

      IMO: I find it more practical not to touch anything in the civil cemetery. Keep all those individual graves or mausoleums as is. Leave it as is. Just preserved whatever is there, its our history, each grave/mausoleums has its own story to tell which i believed matters a lot.

      Moving forward, develop new place to be the new cemetery, plan/design it well, whether it worth millions–what can we do? It is a sure thing that will happen, people will die and must have a place to bury then apply the aesthetic thingy and let the old civil/roman cemeteries just remind our past.

      Just crossing my fingers that businessmen/some rich Bulanenos who owns vast land to invest and develop a private cemetery–this intended for rich people or for those who can afford it.

  2. Rose

    “But Bulanenos have also become more sophisticated in ways and manners, even those from the barrios. Everybody seems to possess a cellphone.”
    —“even those form the barrios”?that’s a bit discriminating, dont you think? and mobile phone isnt a manifestation of sophistication.

    other than that, thanks for retelling history

  3. rudyb


    what happened to the old cemetery at barrio Obrero?
    how about the remains of the people buried there? i know my grandmother from my father side (Gigantone) was buried there, i can still vividly remember as a young boy i was brought my father to light candle for her during one of those fiesta sa gadan. it was a walled cemetery, a thick wall similar to the Spanish wall of the church. what happened? it should have been preserved and maintained similar to other old cemeteries of the country – eg Nagcarlan underground cemetery. regards.

  4. PIO Bulan

    Dear Rudyb:

    Greetings! And a Merry Christmas to you and your family.

    It is sad that the old Obrero Cemetery has already been invaded by inhabitants. This cemetery was there until around middle of 1970’s, but after that it already became a residential area. The property is owned by the Roman Catholic Church of Bulan.

    I know that some of the families of the dead have already transferred the remains in either the Romano or the Sibil. But I don’t know about the rest.

    The De Castro Administration assumed office in 1995, starting with Guiming. But by then the cemetery area was already fully occupied by people. The old walls have already been torn down to give way to houses.

    I am a very history-oriented person, that is why when I was councilor from 1995-2004, I made sure that all history areas in our town are now declared history sites so they can be preserved and protected. I had all these areas properly documented so that people will be aware of their importance. I also collected all the municipal documents, which was left rotting at the old municipio, and have them properly accounted. I recovered, with the help of some young people from the Bondservants organization, close to a hundred thousand pages. Good that Guiming De Castro and Helen supported these efforts. Now at least these things are safe. There’s a lot of work to do.

    Now, back to the cemetery. I hope that even if we find a new site we shall be able to fully preserve these two cemeteries for posterity as a matter of respect for our departed loved ones and as a matter of historical concern.

    Rudy, I hope your family was one of those who were able to retrieve your lola’s remains and had them transferred to a more dignified place.

    Thanks for writing po.

    Tonyboy, PIO

  5. rudyb


    appreciate a lot your quick reply… unfortunately i left Bulan during the early 70’s and seldom visits our town since then. i just remembered my lola upon reading this good article of one of the most important and celebrated events in our town’s activities. i have never attended and experienced it, along with our town fiesta, Lenten season (semana santa), San Juan (June 24), etc. for almost four decades now. i have celebrated Christmas in Bulan only once for the last 37 years. i really awfully and terribly misses my place of birth! i can only remember the good (and the bad) old days when i was still a young man before my high school days back then. the infamous and notorious days instantly flashed back upon reading your “pista sa gadan siguradong may gadan man” (and this is also true of the fiesta celebrations, San Juan, etc.) but these should not tarnish recollecting and reminiscing good old memories, for sure there are more than happy days than sad days.

    am not sure if my lola’s remains were transferred to the other cemeteries, i can only hope and pray that she was taken good care of by our family. i am delighted that you are a history oriented person and the steps and actions you have taken to preserve the history and culture of our community is very commendable. it means a lot to the town’s younger generation’s future and for those people living outside our community who are tracing back their roots to our place. may i recommend, if the local government can afford one, to set up a town museum so all the priceless documents and relics has a proper place and are well secured to prevent it from being vandalized. also historical sites – eg, old buildings such as the Monreal(?), the patio (church wall), the Almazen(?) building, Puericulture bldg. (am not sure if the spellings are right) and other historical sites within and outside of the town proper be protected by enacting probably a municipal ordinance declaring them historical properties and covered and protected by local laws. you may also cover natural and man made such as the Japanese war tunnels, air raid shelters and others for tourism purposes. you may also entail the help and assistance of National Historical Institute. keep up the good worl!

    Merry Christmas also to you and your family as well and to all Bulanons!!!

    God Bless us all….

  6. Alberto M. Reforma

    I think I need to introduce myself for after almost 20 years, we haven’t been seeing each other. The last time I’ve got to know u was when u invited me to attend ur oath taking as councilor of and after that, no reminiscence and even hellos, etc. Tnx for my laptop, I was able to reach u thru facebook and amazed to know that u r the PIO in ur beloved town. How’s life and challenges? Remember the Adamson days when we were competing together with Dennis Oabel to win the heart of Flora Paderes of Tayabas? But those were d days and now is the present. To contact me, just search on facebook, Alberto de Mesa Reforma. My mobile number is 09104661591. Keep up the good work, I’m looking forward to a more meaningful information from u. Good health and Godspeed….

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