Monday, June 4, 2012



One who is not familiar with Mars Ravelo’s Captain Barbell character would quip that it’s ridiculous. Some would even say that the character is laughable. How in the world would anyone think of creating a superhero whose power is dependent on a barbell? But there is a story behind it.
Captain Barbell on the covers of Pinoy Komiks #2, 5 and 15.
It all started with another immortal character created by Ravelo – Darna. Many writers today believed that Darna is a copycat of Wonder Woman. This is actually a case of “racist” misinformation. Ravelo’s concept of Suprema/Varga (Darna’s predecessor characters), which he called “Kamanghamanghang dilag” (Wonderwoman) predates that of Wonder Woman.
In 1939, after seeing Superman in the first few issues of the Action Comics and newspaper comic strips, he created Varga as the female counterpart of Superman, which initially he called Suprema. The name Suprema is the female equivalent of Supremo (Tagalog for "highest rank leader), which is also the nom de guerre of Andres Bonifacio. He later changed his mind because the name might create controversy since he hailed from Cavite, the home province of Emilio Aguinaldo. He started telling his story and showing his creation, clad in more or less a Philippine flag-like costume, to his American friends as the Philippines’ answer to Superman. He believed in the concept that the U.S. is male and the Philippines is female. Unfortunately, several publishers including Liwayway turned him down saying that “a female superhero won’t sell.” So he archived it until after World War II when it was first published it Bulaklak magazine Vol. 4 No. 17 on July 23, 1947. He was, however, disappointed when Wonder Woman came out in All Star Comics #5 in December 1941. Ravelo sincerely believed that Charles Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman, was here in the Philippines sometime in 1939 (if this can only be proven?), and was allegedly one among those who heard his story of Varga (During his early twenties, Ravelo was quite vocal in storytelling about his komiks ideas). He sincerely believed that some of the concepts of Varga, his “Wonderwoman from the Planet Marte” was bootlegged.
Captain Barbell
(from Pinoy Komiks #8, August 29, 1963)
Notice how Jim Fernandez illustrated Tenteng,
Captain Barbell’s alter-ego.
Does he not look like Dolphy?
Ravelo vent out a sort of retaliation on the Captain Marvel character. This time, he admitted doing the spoofing himself, and out came Captain Barbell. He tailor-made the character Tenteng (Captain Barbell’s alter-ego), to Dolphy, who was then a comical skinny actor, as a pun or insult, as opposed to the matinee-idol type Billy Batson (Captain Marvel’s alter-ego). He specifically told illustrator Jim Fernandez about that, and you can see the obvious similarity between Dolphy and Tenteng in Fernandez’ drawings (“Captain Barbell,” Pinoy Komiks, 1963). He even intended the character to have a funny transformation, that Captain Barbell would turn into a skinny bungling superhero (Ravelo, however, later changed that story, which became “Captain Barbell vs. Flash Fifita”). (Un)Fortunately, Captain Barbell became a great hit and Dolphy made his character Tenteng quite a sensation. So, Ravelo changed his mind and continued the legacy of Captain Barbell.
In the original Captain Barbell komiks series (May 23, 1963 – June 18, 1964), and in the first movie, Tenteng was a laughable skinny young man very much maltreated by his four step-brothers, Bruno, Badong, Baldo and Banong. When I asked Uncle Mars what was Tenteng’s full name, he revealed that it was originally Penitente Mumolingot, and smirkingly hasten to add “huwag mo ng itanong” (don’t bother to ask). When I asked Tita Lucy (Ravelo’s wife) years later, she didn’t know about the “Mumolingot” surname but told me that Tenteng was actually taken from the name of a tall lanky boy who bullied Ravelo as a kid.
In the original story, Tenteng released a genie from a bottle and in return the genie gave him three wishes. His first wish was for a fried chicken. His second wish was a barbell he alone can lift that possesses the power to transform him into a super being the moment he shouts “Captain Barbell” (much like “SHAZAM” in Captain Marvel). His third wish was for the genie to become small again. Unfortunately the genie got eaten by a cat.
The start of the story was filled with comedy (with Dolphy’s unequalled portrayal of Tenteng in the movie). The original Captain Barbell (portrayed by Bob Soler) had an eye mask and a real barbell made of “magical” solid gold. Captain Barbell and his alter-ego Tenteng each has a separate identity and portrayal. Tenteng is funny and a weakling while Captain Barbell is a serious character, and superstrong and invulnerable to any man-made weapons. He doesn’t, however, have superspeed as being portrayed on the television series. In fact, GMA 7’s adulterated version of Captain Barbell is almost entirely different from the original character, in storyline, costume & characterization. I would think Uncle Mars would pound them with a barbell if he is still alive today for adulterating his creation.

Captain Barbell Kontra Captain Bakal

On the cover of Pinoy Komiks #31,

July 16, 1964.
Furthermore, after the power of the magical barbell left Tenteng (in the end of the original series), the barbell was thrown into the sea. In the succeeding series, the magical barbell re-emerged and found new rightful owners: Captain Barbel hence became the alter-ego of the limping Dario (“Captain Barbell Kontra Captain Bakal,” Pinoy Komiks, July 2, 1964), and the legless cigarette vendor Gomer (“Captain Barbell Versus Flash Fifita,” Liwayway, December 26, 1966).

NOTE: Based on an unpublished interviews by the author with Mars Ravelo in 1985.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012


(And Some Excerpts of His Unpublished Interviews)

          My first personal encounter with Mars Ravelo happened in the early 1980s, when I started contributing crossword puzzles and articles to different Atlas Publishing magazines. I was a working student, freelancing, mostly in making crossword puzzles and writing trivia articles for Sports weekly, Special People and MOD Filipina. I only knew Mars Ravelo from the komiks stories that I used to follow and admire as a kid. When I saw him talking to the editors at the MOD office I didn’t have the guts to introduce myself to him.
The first issue of Sixteen, the magazine founded by Mars Ravelo.
The first issue of Sixteen MOD Filipina,
December 6, 1974

Note: Mars Ravelo was one of the “Founding Fathers” of MOD. He was the one who brainchild the Pilipino Komiks Incorporated’s Sixteen Magazine (June 22, 1968, with Orlando R. Nadres as its first editor). Later, under Atlas Publishing, Ravelo’s Sixteen eventually expanded to the large-sized Sixteen MOD Filipina (December 6, 1974), then to MOD Filipina (October 10, 1975), and finally to the MOD title (July 3, 1992). It is also interesting to note that MOD’s earliest ancestors were written in Tagalog and later in Taglish before English became its permanent medium.

          In 1985, I was finally introduced by then MOD Filipina magazine editor-in-chief Ernestina “Ernie” Evora Sioco to Marcial “Mars” Ravelo (1916-1988), the “Dean of Filipino Komiks Writer” and “Father of Filipino Komiks Superheroes.” I was asked by Mrs. Sioco to interview Mr. Ravelo. Between the years 1985 to 1987, I had several meetings with Mr. Ravelo. We talked a lot. Uncle Mars was one of two persons (the other is Mr. Antonio Tenorio) who taught me how to conceptualize and write komiks scripts. His style of komiks script writing was very elaborate and descriptive. Illustrators like this because it makes their jobs easier. I’m proud to say that I’m lucky to have been mentored by Mars Ravelo and learned his style of komiks writing.

A tribute article in the “Starliners” section
of MOD Filipina September 23, 1988 issue,
written by editor-in-chief Ernie Evora Sioco.
Published 11 days after the death
of Mars Ravelo.
          I did two interviews with “Uncle Mars” as he was fondly called by the people around him. Both of the interviews revolved around many things from comparing politics of old to politics of the 1980s, to komiks and the different komiks characters he created, most especially the superheroes. The interviews were done in Pilipino; one inside the office of Mr. Antonio Tenorio, then Atlas Publication’s head of Komiks Department, in the old Atlas Compound in Roces Avenue, and the second in a Savory Restaurant together with his wife Lucy and Mrs. Sioco. He was around 70 years old, but aside from what he called “a few moments of lapses” he was still quite sharp on his wits. We were even planning to do a komiks project together. He asked me to create 4 or 5 superheroes and they will join his team of superheroes and create a group much like Marvel’s Avengers and DC’s Justice League. We already had a name for the group: Royal League (“R” for Ravelo and “L” for Lawagan), and Tagalized, Ligang Maharlika (again, “L” for Lawagan” and “M” for Mars). To this, Mrs. Sioco gave her thumbs up. Uncle Mars, however, died on September 1988 before the project even got to first base. 
Mars Ravelo’s creations: From
top left clockwise, Darna at ang
Babaeng Lawin, Dyesebel,
Captain Barbell Kontra Captain Bakal,
Latikman, Booma, Goro & Bondying.
(From Tagalog Klasiks #424,
April 14, 1967.
          For the Ravelo interviews, they were not published in MOD Filipina even after his death because Mrs. Sioco was thinking of starting a Pilipino-language magazine. But when Gintong Mariposa was established in 1992, I misplaced the envelope where the cassette tapes and typewritten notes of the interview (the result of my family’s transferring from one house to another). It was only about three years after, around mid-1995, that I was able to recover it. Sadly, during those times, I was “blacklisted” by Atlas Publishing “for writing in other magazines” like Celebrity World, Mr. & Ms., etc. The General Manager, Mr. Deo Alvarez, said it was MOD’s policy that its contributor should not write for rival publication. Heck, I wasn’t even allowed to enter the Atlas Compound to get my paycheck. Luckily, I had some inside help from Mrs. Sioco and Mr. Tenorio, who tacitly called on the Atlas Compound gate guards to let me in. Incidentally, it was also during those times that I had secured a “go signal” from Tita Lucy to push the project that Uncle Mars and I were planning. It was to Atlas Publishing’s lost that the project didn’t materialize because of petty misunderstanding. Mr. Tenorio was very much regretful about it.
Mars Ravelo’s comics/cartoon characters:
(from left) Rita, Ipe at Engot, Totit, Gorio at Tekla, and Varga.
          For the backdrop of the interview, I did some research and background profiling of Ravelo, and noted that he was the creator of many of the unforgettable characters in Philippine pop culture: Rita, Trudis Liit, Roberta, Si Gorio at Si Tekla, Maruja, Facifica Falayfay, Bondying, Dyesebel, among others. His komiks dramas like Basahang Ginto and Tubog sa Ginto were literally acclaimed as cinematic gold. His superhero characters like Darna, Captain Barbell and Lastikman were also immortalized in films and television series.
          Today, after comparing my notes with what I was able to gather about Uncle Mars in the Internet, it dawned on me that what he revealed to me in the interviews were valuable information unknown to most people.

Mars Ravelo’s Bemboy published
in a 1939 Mabuhay Extra issue.
(courtesy of Jose Dennis Villegas’ blog)
          Do you know for example that Ravelo’s first published works came out around mid-1938 when he was still a struggling 22-year-old cartoonist? But if you browse through the Internet and a couple of very “shallow” komiks history books, you would read that Rita (Kasinghot), published in Bulaklak magazine in 1947, is tagged as the first published komiks creation of Ravelo. That’s nine years off the mark!
          In my interviews, Ravelo revealed that “sa abot ng natatandaan ko” (as far as I can remember), his first published works were “Ponchong” and “Bemboy.” And had not Liwayway magazine turned him down on his Varga (Darna’s predecessor character), history would have put Darna’s origin inside Liwayway’s pages instead of Bulaklak, and she would have been the Philippines’ first komiks superhero (Yes, at least one-a-half years ahead of Wonder Woman's first comics appearance!).
          For two years since rediscovering the text of the interviews, I spent part of my spare time trying to find remnants of Ravelo’s lost works. I scoured libraries and my collector-friends’ bauls for naught. It was only in 2011 that I got lucky. I found “Bemboy” courtesy of komiks collector and archiver Jose Dennis Villegas’ blog.
          According to Mr. Villegas, he acquired the very rare find, a 1939 Mabuhay Extra magazine containing Ravelo’s komiks strip “Bemboy,” from an antique dealer. Since then I also scoured even junk shops for Ravelo’s lost works, expecting to be lucky one of these days and perhaps find his other lost work, “Ponchong.”
          Both Bemboy and Ponchong, like many of the Ravelo-created characters including Narda (Varga/Darna alter-ego), Bondying, Penitente Mumolingot or better known as Tenteng (Captain Barbell’s first alter-ego), Tony (of “Tiny Tony”), etc., were names of his childhood acquaintances.
Ponchong & Bemboy, the first two
published characters created by
Mars Ravelo (around 1938-1939).
          Ravelo also told me that the two persons that influenced him early in his career were Irish cartoonist George McManus (1884-1954) and Jewish-American animator Max Fleischer (1883-1972). McManus’ cartoon strips “Rosie’s Beau,” “Bringing Up Father,” and “The Newly Weds, influenced him so much both in his style of writing and drawing. The character Ponchong he said was a Filipino version of Jiggs, the character in “Bringing Up Father” that brought McManus to fame and fortune. The komiks strips “Totit,” “Ipe,” “Buhay Pilipino,” “Si Gorio at Si Tekla” and “Rita at Okay” were reminiscent of McManus’ style.
Two of George McManus’ works: “Snookums” and “Bringing Up Father.”
Look at the similarity of McManus’ and Ravelo’s style of drawing cartoons
about everyday family situations.
          For the character Bemboy (I earlier thought it was “Bimboy” until I saw the comic strip discovered by Villegas), he recalled having a playmate who argued with his mother a lot because he put so much attention to his dog that he always neglect to do his home chores. It so happened that Fleischer created a character named “Bimbo,” the dog with a human girlfriend, which is “Betty Boop” (the character that immortalized Fleischer). Ravelo sort of experimented during his early works, intermixing the real story with fiction, and also interspersing the drawing styles of McManus and Fleischer with his own.
          Varga is another casing point of Ravelo’s early style of drawing. True to his accounts, Varga’s illustration is a cross between McManus and Fleischer. And based on his story, the timeline of Varga’s birth origin should be put around 1939 and not 1947.

          Ravelo admitted that when he was in his early youth, he was quite gregarious and talkative. He loves telling his stories to both his Filipino and American friends and acquaintances. When he first saw Superman from a newspaper comics strip brought by American soldiers, he so loved it that he boasted he would create a female counterpart in Philippine komiks.
          To quote Ravelo: “Alam mo naisip kong gawin yung Varga para itapat kay Superman. Lalake yung sa mga Amerikano, babae yung sa atin. Di ba ayos?” (You know I thought of creating Varga as a counterpart of Superman. Male on the part of the Americans, female on our part. Isn’t that okay?).
          Many in the komiks world know that before Darna, there was Varga. But did you know that Varga was actually the second name. When Ravelo was telling his “Superman female counterpart” story, the name he was calling her was “Suprema,” which is the female equivalent of a “Supremo” (highest rank leader), a nom de guerre of Andres Bonifacio. Ravelo intended Suprema to be an all-powerful and indestructible woman just like Superman. When asked, “why not just call her Superwoman?” Ravelo answered, “Ayaw ko kasi siyang parang ginaya lang. Naisip ko, para maging naiiba siya.” (I don’t like her to appear like a copycat. I thought, to make her different.). Ravelo didn’t want to bootleg the character he so admired. “Naisip ko ring gumamit ng pang-uring tatatak sa isip ng tao. Naisip ko ang salitang ‘kamangha-mangha.’ Kaya ang itinawag ko sa kaniya ay Suprema – ang kamangha-manghang dilag.” (I also thought of using an adjective that will be retained in the minds of people. I thought of the word ‘wonder.’ So I called her Suprema – the wonder woman.)
          Ravelo had a change of mind, however, and opted not to use the name Suprema. Ravelo changed the name to Varga. From his nickname “Mars” (also the name of the Greek god of war and the fourth planet from the sun) and its Tagalog equivalent “Marte,” he purportedly used as Varga’s homeworld. So, the Philippines’ first superheroine was born – “Varga, ang Kamangha-manghang Dilag mula sa Planetang Marte” (Varga, the Wonder Woman from the Planet Mars).
          It can also be noted that Varga was a character archived twice. It was first published inside the pages of Bulaklak magazine Vol. 4 Number 17 on July 23, 1947. Varga became very popular with the readers, but by some twist of circumstance, the name Varga became the ownership of Bulaklak magazine (during those times, intellectual property right is not yet in effect) and when Ravelo left the publication in 1949 after a falling out with its editor, Varga stayed behind. Ravelo took Varga’s personality, revised her costume, and brought her to Pilipino Komiks, and renamed the character Darna.
          For more than two decades the character Varga was lost, until Ravelo established his own RAR Publishing House in 1970 and later acquired the rights to publish Bulaklak. He retitled it Bulaklak at Paruparo, and inside its pages, Varga returned and completed her story. It was followed by “Varga at ang Impakta,” which was illustrated by Jess Olivares. The resurrected Varga, however, didn’t have much flare like its successor-characterization Darna.
           It took three decades again before the name Varga resurfaced, when ABS-CBN Channel 2 made it into a TV series which started on August 2, 2008. The character portrayed by Mariel Rodriguez, however, was very different from the original creation of Ravelo. The superheroine’s costume was change, as well as her origin and beginning. The name of her alter ego was also change – from Narda to Olga. (READ ALSO: THE UNTOLD TRUE BEGINNING OF DARNA)
          The ABS-CBN series portrayed an alien princess named Vara from the planet Vargon who found herself drawn to planet Earth. Gifted with beauty, voluptuous body and superpower, Vara met and merged with a young Filipina girl named Olga (played by Angel Sy), and became Varga. Together they tried to fight evil and save the world. Varga’s archenemy in the series is Xandra (played by Sheryl Cruz), a woman who can literally sucked the youth out of every human.
          The series ended on October 4, 2008, after 11 episodes.

Three of many komiks novels written by Mars Ravelo:
“Goro, Ang Kapreng Mahiyain” on the first issue of Pioneer Komiks (December 3, 1962),
“Kitikiti” on the Pilipino Komiks #430 (March 4, 1965),
and “Nakangiting Halimaw” on the cover of
Tagalog Klasiks #401 (May 17, 1966).
          There were so many which can be considered as lost works of Ravelo. While they are listed among his resumes, many of his works are now considered rarities or, worst, no longer have existing copies. Do you know for instance that aside from “Varga” and “Rita” there was another character – “Ric Benson” – that Ravelo wrote and drew for Bulaklak in 1947?
          Before Iskul Bukol’’s Miss Tapia, there was already “Miss Tilapia.” Before Jinkee Pacquiao was even born, Ravelo already have a character named “Jinkee.” Truly, sad to say, much of the priceless legacies left by this legendary komiks great maybe lost forever.

          Now, anyone of you heard about “Boksingera?” Can you find me an existing copy of the “Baby Bubut” komiks series? Ah yes, how about “Zorina,” “Kitikiti,” or “Nakangiting Halimaw?”
Two komiks novels written by Mars Ravelo.
On the left, an inside page) from Redondo Komix #23, March 10, 1964 (courtesy of Stephen Redondo):
“Devlin, Swashbuckler of the Seas” (illustrated by Nestor Redondo)
On the right, an inside page from Espesyal Komiks #269, January 28, 1963:
“Fil-American Girl” (illustrated by Nestor Leonidez).
          Still many more are not even listed on Wikipedia or on Mars Ravelo’s official website. Among them “David Arkanghel” (drawn by Carlos A. Divinagracia), “Devlin: Swashbuckler of the Seas” (drawn by Nestor Redondo), “Fil-American Girl” (drawn by Nestor Leonidez), “Ginto, Pilak, Tanso” (drawn by Bes Nievera), “Goro, Ang Kapreng Mahiyain” (drawn by Rex Guerrero), “Handsome” (drawn by Nestor Redondo), “Higantina, Da Big Byuti” (drawn by Nestor Infante), “Impakta” (drawn by Joe Marie Mongcal), “Jesus Iscariote” (Romy S. Gaupo), “Jikiriz” (drawn Dell Barras), “Konde Artemius” (drawn by Romy S. Gaupo), “Mga Kuwento ni Lola Huga” (drawn by Romy Santos), “Pomposa, Ang Kabayong Tsismosa” (Elpidio Torres), etc.

Three of many komiks novels written by Mars Ravelo under the penname Virgo Villa:“Asuwang” on the cover of Extra Komiks #253 (May 1, 1961),
“Botong” on the cover of Universal Komiks #80 (April 7, 1967),
and “Tsangga Rangga” on the cover of Espesyal Komiks #338 (May 6, 1967).
          Let us not forget that because Ravelo was such a prolific writer, he needs to write under pennames so as not to overwhelm both the publication and the reading public. There are several works he did under the penname Virgo Villa: “Asuwang,” “Bamaw,” “Botong,” “Gorgonya,” “Kanggo,” “Oggra, ang Kapreng Tanga,” "The Adventures of Rex Braganza,” “Tsangga Rangga,” to name a few. As of this updated posting (May, 2017), they are also not yet listed in Wikipedia.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

PEDRO BUKANEG: Father of Ilokano Literature

Pedro Bukaneg is one of the colorful figures in the history of the Philippines, particularly in the annals of Samtoy (ancient name of Ilocos, or Ylukon to the neighboring regions). From meager written sources and abundant oral traditions, biographers are able to weave the elusive strands of his life and remarkable achievements. They rhapsodized him as the first Ilokano man-of-letters. They compare him to Moses because as a newly-born baby, he was found floating down the river by a woman; to Homer, for he was born blind and grew up to be a popular bard; and to Socrates, because he was not good-looking as a man but wise. As the first Ilokano poet, orator, musician, lexicographer, and linguist, to appear in the limelight of history, whose name and deeds enhance the glory of Ilokandia’s literary heritage, history has bequeathed upon him the title of “Father of Ilokano Literature.”

Many aspects of Bukaneg’s life are obscured by legendary mists, so that it is quite difficult to dissociate the historical Bukaneg from the legendary Bukaneg. It is speculated that Bukaneg might have been born early in 1592. It is said that one day in March, 1592, a laundry woman found a little baby crying inside a floating tampipi (big basket for keeping clothes) along the bank of a stream (now called Banaoang River), a tributary of the big Abra River, which flows between the town of Bantay and Vigan, Ilocos Sur. She took the baby and saw it was a boy, ugly and blind. This story parallels that of the Biblical Moses, who, was an infant found by an Egyptian princess (daughter of pharaoh) inside a basket floating down the Nile River. The only difference is that Moses was neither ugly nor blind. Evidently, Bukaneg was a victim of the brutal custom of destroying infants born with physical defects, practiced not only in Samtoy, but also in Sparta, Persia, and other nations of anquity.

After saving the poor infant from a watery grave, the kind-hearted woman brought him to the parish priest of Bantay, who baptized him as Pedro Bukaneg. The name Bukaneg is said to be a contraction of the Ilokano phrase “nabukaan nga itneg,” meaning “Christianized heaten.” History still has no information as to who were Pedro Bukaneg’s parents.

God had invariably given Bukaneg certain wondrous qualities to overcome the handicap of being blind, such as intellectual brilliance, retentive memory, sensitive musical sense, magnetic eloquence, and gift for learning languages. He was brought up and educated by the kind Augustinian priests in the convent of Bantay, a priory (motherhouse) for new missionaries assigned in Ilokandia.

As Bukaneg reached manhood, he proved to be a remarkable Ilokano who was well liked and appreciated by the Augustinian friars. A gifted linguist, he mastered Latin, Spanish, Ilokano and Itneg (Tinggian) languages. He possessed an extraordinary talent for assimilating all things pertaining to theology, the Bible, and Spanish literature which his Augustinian tutors taught him, and also the Ilokano folk songs and traditions he heard from the old barrio people. Being a romanticist, he composed poems and songs which were so tenderly sweet that he gained fame among the Ilokano masses as a gifted troubadour.

The authorship of Biag ni Lam-ang, the famous Ilokano epic, was attributed to him by some authors. This was, however, a disputed issue. For the epic poem, containing 294 stanzas, about 1,500 lines, and the syllables of each line range from six to 12, was chanted by the Ilokano folks since pre-Spanish times. It is possible that Bukaneg, being blind, might have dictated it from memory to an amanuensis; consequently, it was put into writing and was preserved for posterity. We owe it thus to Bukaneg that this priceless Ilokano popular epic was saved from oblivion.

Bukaneg was good not only in poetry but also in oratory. He preached the Christian religion in the streets of Vigan, Aringay, and other towns, and persuaded many of his people to discard their old beliefs. Large crowds of people always listened to him when not minding his ugly face and blindness. Because of this, he came to be called the “Apostle of the Ilokanos.”

The Augustinians friars recognized Bukaneg’s talent as a linguist. During the early days, Augustinian missionaries who arrived from Mexico and Spain studied the Ilokano language in the Augustinian convent of Bantay by way of preparing them for their apostolic labors in the mission fields of Ilokandia. Bukaneg was their teacher in the Ilokano language. Aside from his teaching, he wrote Christian sermons in Ilokano, translated the novenas and prayers from Latin and Spanish into Ilokano, and helped in the preparation of the first Ilokano catechism and grammar.

The first Ilokano catechism was the Ilokano translation of a book containing Christian doctrines by a certain Cardinal Bellarmine, which was printed in the Augustinian Convent of Manila in 1621 by Antonio Damba and Miguel Seixo. Bukaneg was a great help to Fray Francisco Lopez, an Augustinian missionary- linguist, in the preparation of the book titled Libro a naisurat amin ti batas ti Doctrina Cristiana nga naisurat iti libro ti Cardenal a angnagan Belarmino (Book Containing the Laws of the Christian Doctrine written by Cardinal Bellarmine).

The first Ilokano grammar, also authored by Fray Lopez, titled Arte de la Lengua Iloca (The Art of Ilocano Language), and printed at the University of Santo by Tomas Pinpin (c. 1580-c.1650) and Tomas de Aquino in 1927. In the prologue of the book, Fray Lopez admitted the considerable assistance given by Bukaneg. The book is now considered extremely very rare. One copy of it is preserved in the British Museum in London. Later editions of this valuable book were printed, with certain revisions, such as those made by Fr. Fernando Rey (1792), Fr. Andres Carro (1793), and by Fr. Cipriano Marcilla (1895).

Unfortunately, many of the poems, sermon prayers, and other works written by Bukaneg have all been lost. It is believed that a large number of linguistic works, poems, novenas, and prayers which were attributed to the Spanish friars were really composed by Bukaneg.

The Ilokanos also recognized Bukaneg as seer. They came to consult him whenever they were in trouble for they had implicit faith in his wisdom. Even the Spaniards look for him for the guidance in their hour of need. An anecdote was told that one day the Servant Don Nicolas de Figueroa, Spanish encomendero of Narvacan and Bantay, was shot to death by arrows and the arquebus which he was carrying was stolen. Shortly afterwards, a band of Itnegs (Tinggians) were captured near the scene of the crime and were taken to Bantay. One of these Itnegs was believed to be the murderer, but the authorities could not determine the guilty party in as much as all of the accused refused to talk.

In the midst of their judicial perplexities, the Spanish authorities called Bukaneg to help them in the trial. When Bukaneg arrived at the scene, he asked that all the Itnegs be freed from their bonds, explaining that “it was not right that all should suffer from the deed of the guilty man.” He walked around the circle of Itnegs who stood silently, betraying no emotions on their stolid faces. He placed his right hand over the breast of each one, feeling their hearts throb. After this strange ritual, he pointed one Itneg, declaring him the guilty murderer. Taken aghast by Bukaneg’s clever deduction, the Itneg broke down and confessed. He was accordingly punished. His companions, who were set free, returned to their village in the hills and related the tale of Bukaneg’s strange power of second sight.

Beloved by his people, Bukaneg died about 1630. His death was mourned by his people who had come to revere him as a man of remarkable talents. To his enduring fame, the Ilokanos, in recognition of his literary legacy, named the traditional Ilocano literary joust as Bukanegan, after his name, just as the Tagalogs name their literary joust Balagtasan, in honor of Francisco “Balagtas” Baltazar (1788-1862), the laureated “Prince of Tagalog Poets.”

Whether legendary or historical, Pedro Bukaneg’s greatest heritage is evident in the fact that compare to regional literature that developed consistently from the Spanish Period, Ilokano literature progressed at a pace as fast as that of the Tagalogs. In poetry, for example, from the time of Pedro Bukaneg, we have seen the likes of Leona Florentino, Isabelo de los Reyes, Mena Crisologo, Leon C. Pichay, Godofredo Reyes, Jeremias Calixto, Juan S. P. Hidalgo Jr, Jose Bragado, Reynaldo Duque, and many more. Aside from poems, stories and novels published in the magazine Bannawag, numerous books being published in Ilokano are clear indications of the wealth, as well as health, of writing in the Ilokano language.


Almario, Virgilio S., “Writer’s Circle and How They Moved Philippine Literature Ahead,” Filway’s Philippine Almanac, Quezon City, 1991. ISBN 971-121-156-4

"Pedro Bukaneg: Father of the Iloko Literature." Retrieved: 2011-02-18

Ribo, Lourdes M., Reyes, Linda M., Language and Literature, Philippine Setting, Manila, 1998. ISBN 971-071-309-4

Sunday, January 1, 2012


          A Filipino fictional superhero in the tradition of giving “Captain” tags to a national superhero: Captain America, Captain Britain, etc. There are two known version of this character: The first was seen in the film Captain Philippines at Boy Pinoy (1965). In this version, he is portrayed as a Captain America look-alike, which according to an existing movie flyer was drawn by Alfredo P. Alcala and portrayed by Bob Soler. The second much later version (by unknown artist) showing him with cape and able to fly.

The film Captain Philippines at Boy Pinoy (1965) movie flyer.
Notice the name Alfredo P. Alcada written at the bottom of the drawing of Captain America
riding a motor bike, indicating that he is the artist that drew it.
          The character Captain Philippines shown in the 1965 film Captain Philippines at Boy Pinoy was no doubt a copycat of the superhero created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby – Captain America. The motorcycle-riding Captain Philippines, his head mask, costume and shield were a rip-off of Captain America. Whereas Captain America’s costume and shield showcased the “Star and Stripes” American flag, Captain Philippines’ costume and shield was illustrated to show the sun, three stars and the four colors of the Philippine flag. Even Captain Philippines’ sidekick – Boy Pinoy – was reminiscent of Bucky Barnes, which was Captain America’s sidekick in his earlier years.
          According to the movie flyer, the character was drawn by Alfredo P. Alcala. It is not known if he also wrote the story and screenplay of the film.
          The film was produced by Fernando Poe Jr (1939-2004) in 1965 under his outfit, D’lanor Productions. It starred Bob Soler (which also portrayed the first Captain Barbell on film) as Captain Philippines, and Lou Salvador Jr. as Boy Pinoy. It was directed by Paquito Toledo and also starring Nova Villa, Marion Douglas, Nello Nayo, Pablo Virtuoso, Jose Garcia, Mary Walter, Angelo Ventura, Resty Sandel, Vic Uematsu, Diego Guerrero, Marilou Murray and Leni Trinidad.


Front side of the Sugarland promotional play cards.
Notice that this 1990s version has the power of flight.
          During the 1990s, the Sugarland Company, maker of the “Eight O’clock” powdered juice drink, had made promotional play cards, which include among others a character named Captain Philippines. The superhero has a more original look than the 1965 version, but its creator is yet unknown. He has a blue front mask without top cover; a cape with blue outside color and red inside color; on his chess is a circle containing the sun with eight rays; and on his belt is the three stars. His costume theme, like that of the 1965 version, contained four colors – red, blue, white and yellow – and is symbolic of the Philippine flag.
          According to the given information in the card, Captain Philippines worked as a newsboy during his childhood days to help his parent. His real name is Rizal Bonifacio, obviously taken from the name of two Philippine National Heroes Jose Rizal (1861-1896) and Andres Bonifacio (1863-1897). He obtained his superpowers through a legendary myth.
Back side of the Sugarland promotional play cards.
Notice that the hero’s name is indicated as Rizal Bonifacio.