By: Antonio “Tonyboy” G. Gilana
PISTA SA GADAN
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.