Bangued, Abra is my birthplace. My parents were Florencio Sibayan and Victoriana Bravo. I was baptized Patrocinio in an Aglipayan Church in 1918 and again baptized Jose in a Catholic Church in 1920 when my brother, Felix, was born. We were baptized together. My godmother was Nana Titing Lizardo and my brother’s godfather was Quirino Lizardo, son of Nana Titing.
I used the name Patrocinio (Siniong) from grade 1 up to 2nd year high school in Bangued. When I enrolled in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya for 3rd year H.S., I changed my name to Jose. Patrocinio is a girl’s name.
The priest who baptized me was Padre Doro, the founder of the Christ the King Seminary. He was killed by the Japanese in Kamuning, Quezon City while defending his nuns from being abused by soldiers. I remember him saying in the pulpit, “Agbabawi cayo iti basbasolyo!” Father Lawrence Leisring was Principal Teacher, CSC.
The church bells served as the clock of the town, rang at different hours to rouse us from bed; to take our noon meals, and recite Angelus Prayers before taking our supper. It was the only place where to meet other people on Sundays or Fiestas regularly. In short, it was the focal point of town activity then. (1918+)
My mother taught me how to pray and my father taught me how to read the CARTILLA or Spanish alphabet. They took us to religious services.
My father’s parents are Eleuterio and Dominga of Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Mother’s parents are Gavino Bravo and Lucretia Bandayrel of Bangued.
Don Ciano Barcena, Don Benito Valera, Don Juan Valera, Tata Tomas Balleras and Anicito Lozo (Photographer)
Church Yard as Cemetery
As a little boy I was scared to go to the church alone because the church yard was a burial ground with the tombstones sticking outside of the ground. Later on another burial place was located outside of town and the church yard was converted into playgrounds. The bones of the dead were dug up and placed inside the walls of the church or buried under the floors. That of my grandma, Lucretia Bandayrel Bravo, was at the front row of benches under a marble slab.
Statues of Saints
The statues inside the church were all white except the devil under the foot of the angel whose hand was upraised with a spear directed towards the black-winged devil that had a horn. The statues were paraded around town during the procession on Holy Week. The most beautiful and expressive looking statue was that of St. Magdalene, owned by Fina’s family, Don Juan Valera y familia. All of the statues were wearing sad faces except that of Jesus on his resurrection. At first the statues were lighted with candles, then with carbide lamps, then by electric bulbs. All of them were owned by rich families or church-owned.
Procession or Libot
The religious processions during Holy Weeks are always looked up to as great occasions for displaying fervent belief in God and for venerating Jesus Christ and the Saints. It was a very colorful display of everybody’s best. The houses are brushed up, the roads are sprinkled, and arches (ARCO) are built with lots of fruits hanging and with an altar for saying the LECCIO. These arcos are erected by neighborhood efforts and are all around the procession routes. Eats and drinks and snacks are available for everyone in these arcos. When I was a kid the snacks consisted of rolled tobacco, MAMA and BASI. The roads were then dusty and paved with stones from the Abra River. Everybody had a candle and sang religious songs or recited the rosary along the way. Houses were lighted along the way. The hardest part of the procession was when we went up the CALVARY at PAGPARTIAN after passing SINAPANGAN. The APO ANGOSTIA of TATA BENID consisting of a big cross with Virgin’s rosary and Jesus Christ was mounted on a CARRO or carriage drawn by men. It was the heaviest set of statues. We kids were underneath trying to push the carriage uphill. It was our sort of PENITENCIA during Holy Friday.
DOMINGO SABET or Easter Sunday was an occasion for great rejoicing after a week long of abstinence and religious mourning. We woke up early before sunrise to go to church and then proceed to the place where the SON and MOTHER were scheduled to meet at dawn. A small girl dressed like an angel was placed inside a GALONG GALONG or baby swing and hoisted by pulleys up an ARCO waiting for the statue of the Virgin to pass for her to pull up the black veil to reveal the presence of Jesus resurrected In front of her. This event was held either in front of the BAULA family with Manang Ines singing the RESURECSIT song. ALLELUIA!
Priests & Nuns
The Catholic priests and nuns in Bangued were mostly Americans and Europeans. Father Teodoro Batenburch, the founder of Christ the King Seminary, was the CURA who baptized me and my brother. He was a German. Father Lawrence Leisring, a Priest of the Pink Sisters Convent in Baguio, was our Principal Teacher of the Colegio del Sagrado Corazon, H.S. He was American. I learned that most nuns then were Belgians. They spoke English and learned to speak Ilocano and preach in Ilocano. I still remember them saying in the pulpit, “AGPAPAWI KAYO TI PAS-PASOLYO.” They should be honored as pioneers in civilizing and educating the people of Abra as missionaries of LOVE. The head nun was Madre Lagondisa. They cooked and laundered and fixed the altar for the priests.
During summer vacation, we attended a school for children held by volunteer teachers like Manang Ipang Bayabos and Manang Tacion Bayabos for “cathetismo.” We were taught about good behaviors, how to pray, prepare for communion, and how to go to confession. Every time we attended the course we were given “estampita” or religious cards. At the end of the course, we took our first communion followed by a sort of party at the church premise where program were held and food and drinks served. We can exchange our collection of estampitas for some toys. The two Bayobos teachers later on became nuns. We, their students, became “sacristans” or acolytes.
The month of May is a month of DATON or offering flowers in church for the Virgin Mary done by girls during the mass, and also by small boys. We went around the town asking for flowers to be offered to the Virgin Mother. There were lots of flower-growers in Bangued, including my mother who grew roses, camia, sosal, and kayanga. The flowers were arranged into beautiful bouquets and placed in flower baskets or vases. They were received at the communion rails by the nuns who arranged them at the foot of the statue of the Virgin.
Weddings, baptisms and burials were the subject of rituals depending on the affluence of the parties concerned. The richer or bigger offerings, the more elaborate the ceremonies including the ringing of bells, etc. Our lives were church-oriented from birth to death. Praise the Lord. Everyone passing in front of the church building bowed, made the sign of the cross, and removed their hats or anything on their heads like LABBA (baskets) for men and women respectively before bowing. People then were religiously conscious and spiritual. Their ambition was to ENTER HEAVEN when they die. (I saw my mother get up from bed, face the crucifix, make the sign of the cross, get up from her kneeling position, get back in bed, and die. She was sick of PTB and was bed-ridden for several months when she suddenly got up unassisted.) PRAISE THE LORD! During Christmas the statue of baby Jesus was displayed for kissing and offerings. On All Souls Day, the priest was asked to bless the graves and sprinkle holy water for a fee.