The heritage of Pandacan (Part 3 of the Pandacan series)

For a district with a 300-year old history as Pandacan, it should come as no surprise to see Pandacan figure prominently in our history in one way or another or to see fragments of its old history surviving in the midst of the many changes this place has faced.

If there’s one foremost claim Pandacan can make in our history, it would most likely being the birthplace and hometown of one of the champions of the Filipino secularization movement in the Catholic Church and eventual martyr, Father Jacinto Zamora. Not only was he honored by having not just one street after him, a park was also built on the approximate site where he was born.



the site of Fr. Zamora’s birthplace is now a park-playground

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Pandacan: the land of arts and depots (Part 2)

One little-known fact about Pandacan is that it has been dubbed the “Little Italy” and “Little Venice” partly because of its topography being surrounded by a river and esteros or creeks and also because of it being the center of arts and culture especially during the 19th-early 20th century. In fact, Pandacan was known as the cradle of Italian operas in the country as this district was the center of opera and orchestral music performance in and around Manila, and perhaps the country as well.

One of the foremost figures of music based in Pandacan is Ladislao Bonus, who is also known as “the father of the Philippine Opera.” He was able to establish the first Philippine opera company in Pandacan in 1887, was part of the Manila Cathedral and Marikina orchestras among others, and has written musical scores for a number of zarzuelas as well. Today, a memorial to him exists along a street named after one of the first members of his opera company, Teodora San Luis.


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Pandacan: the land of arts and depots (Part 1)

Not many people know this but May 30 this year is an important milestone being celebrated in a certain part of Manila, in a district they call Pandacan. What makes this date this year special is that it marks the 300th anniversary of the foundation of Pandacan. Thus, this series is dedicated to this storied district.

Located along the southern banks of the Pasig River across the districts of San Miguel and Santa Mesa lies the district known to many as Pandacan. Glancing from its name one might think it may have come from the Tagalog root word “pandak” or “short person” thus giving the perception that it may have called as such because the place was inhabited by short people. But the truth is actually farther than that. In fact, originally the place was not called Pandacan but “Pandanan,” a place where the edible pandan trees used to thrive. Somehow its name got corrupted over time and we now get the name we call it today.

Being located along the banks of the river, and considering the early Filipinos in Manila being dependent on the river, it is but natural that one would see a thriving community in what is now Pandacan before the arrival of the Spaniards. But apart from the river, the early Pandacan folk also relied on the rich land as well; farming was also an important source of living. As the nearby Kingdom of Maynilad soon fell to Spanish control, the community of Pandacan followed as well, first as part of the greater community of Sampaloc which was established on the northern banks but eventually became a suburb on its own on May 30, 1712. Continue reading


“Viva Santo Niño!” and the dance of Manila

Apart from a devotion to the Virgin Mary in all her various forms, (like the Our Lady of Guadalupe, Manaoag, Antipolo, the Rosary, etc.) Filipino Catholics are renowned for their devotion to the Infant Jesus AKA the Santo Niño or the Holy Child. And if the festivals and feasts held every 3rd Sunday of January (which is the feast day of the Santo Niño) are of any indication, the Pinoy Catholic’s devotion to the Santo Niño is as much fervent and grand as the many Marian feasts held here, with Cebu and Aklan being the more popular hotbeds of Santo Niño festivities with their respective festivals the Sinulog and Ati-Atihan.


While not considered the prime religious icon of Manila, the Santo Niño is being venerated in some parts of the city. One noteworthy Santo Niño-influenced festival in the city stands out for its unique tradition that has withstood time and urban influences.

Located at Manila’s eastern part right at the southern bank of the Pasig River, Pandacan has long been considered a hotbed for the city’s culture and the arts especially during the 19th-early 20th centuries. Thus, it is not surprising (or surprising for others who are not familiar with Pandacan) that one can find some unique traditions that are alive in this part of the city. What better way to showcase that tradition than in Pandacan’s annual festival in honor of its patron the Santo Niño de Pandacan.


Every year on a Saturday before the actual feast of the Santo Niño, people flock to Pandacan’s narrow streets to witness a unique tradition of dance in honor of its patron. They call this dance the “buling-buling” which came from an old Tagalog word meaning beautiful, which pertains to the image of Santo Niño. It is said that the dance has been around in some form during the 1800’s; its movements symbolize gratitude, praise, worship, and faith for the Santo Niño.


In the midst of the urbanization and modernization of Pandacan’s landscape, it is nice to see a tradition like this being kept alive thanks to the efforts of various Pandacan groups who work together in preserving Pandacan’s heritage. It is one good example of a living remnant of what may have been a rich Manila heritage that has largely disappeared in the urban madness. Much so that the City of Manila has made the “buling-buling” the official dance of the city.


Manila's local officials taking part in the dance

Before the dance procession begins, one gets to witness a unique tradition that was just begun recently: a joint thanksgiving celebration of the Roman Catholic Church and Philippine Independent Church (Iglesia Filipina Independiente) symbolized by their respective Santo Niño images placed side by side on an altar at the Liwasang Balagtas. For churches whose doctrines on faith are not all the same, it showed a sense of unity in their devotion to Pandacan’s patron and some hope that religions can come together in faith.


the Catholic priest and the IFI reverend in the joint celebration


the IFI Santo Niño


the Catholic Santo Niño of Pandacan Church, itself an old image

Then comes the dance procession itself as different groups composed of folks young and old from all walks in life dressed in colorful Filipiniana-inspired outfits dance the buling-buling around Pandacan. While there is recognition involved with the groups that have been seen as “exemplary,” there is no competition involved but rather a showcase of faith of a people through their devotion to the Santo Niño.





From the looks of things, it is encouraging to see this dance of Manila living on as part of a city’s underrated culture that deserves to be given some attention for the sake of preserving the city’s soul endangered by urban decay.


acknowledgements also to the Manila Times and MyPandacan.com for the additional information.

© The Urban Roamer