Bicol sets homecoming welcome for ‘Sarung Banggi’ composer
By Celso T. Amo
Legazpi City (31 May) -- Potenciano Gregorio, Sr., famous composer of Bicol’s most popular love song “Sarung Banggi”, finally came home to rest in his hometown of Sto. Domingo in the province of Albay.
The remains of Lolo Potin arrived at the Legazpi City Airport on May 18 after it was exhumed from the La Loma Cemetery in Quezon City where the Bicolano constable was buried following his death on February 12, 1939, at the age of 59.
Lolo Poten’s remains was reentered at the town’s recreational and cultural center named after him, the following day May 19 this year, which is the composer’s 125th birth anniversary.
The homecoming was this year’s highlight of the town’s weeklong ‘Sarung Banggi’ Festival now on its third year.
Sto. Domingo favorite son was born on May 19, 1880 in Libog (now Sto. Domingo) to Narciso Gregorio and Canuta Balladolid.
He was a violin prodigy and was taught music by Fr. Jorge Barlin, the curate of the town at that time.
As his knowledge of music grew, he started to write music for the local church by himself or in collaboration with his elder brother, Bernardo who organized the Banda de Lib-og.
Later, Lolo Poten eventually took the baton of the band, a position he held until he joined the Philippine Constabulary Band in 1919.
Lolo Poten composed the “Sarung Banggi” when he was 17 years-old. The composition, most beautiful and popular love song in the dialect, reflects the Bicol language which is distinguished for its sonorousness and sweetness.
There are different versions how Gregorio composed his masterpiece.
Hilario Balilo, former town mayor and chairman of the Sto. Domingo Historical and Cultural Society recounted that Justo Gregorio, who was 72 year old in 1962 has recalled that his Uncle Poten wrote the first bars and the lyrics of Sarung Banggi “one night while he was awaken by the chirping of a bird and rustling of the leaves.”
Balilo said that the Sarung Banggi was first played in public during the town fiesta of Guinobatan, Albay on August 15, 1910.
Resurrecion Gregorio, one of the great grandsons, said Lolo Poten who was the leader of Banda de Lib-og, wanted to dedicate the song to his girlfriend Dominga Duran who later became his wife.
He added that Lolo Poten wrote the song during Mayon’s eruption in 1897 when the family evacuated to their farm in Barangay Salvacion where Lolo Poten was inspired by the rumblings of Mayon Volcano. “During that time he was also busy writing another composition on the eruption of the Mayon Volcano written in polka tempo with Spanish lyrics.”
Aside from Sarung Banggi, Gregorio wrote other piece like “Pusong Tagub nin Sakit,” and “Hinoyop-hoyop nin Dios,” though not popular as his masterpiece.
The original copies of Sarung Banggi were destroyed when the ancestral house of the Gregorio’s built in 1840 got burnt in the worst fire that hit the town on January 19, 1961.
Gregorio joined the Philippine Constabulary Band under the baton of Col. Walter H. Loving, who asked him to show his musical talent during the interview in Manila.
Gregorio first played the Sarung Banggi, his original composition, on the “banduria’ then on the piano.
Upon knowing that Potenciano Gregorio was the composer of the Sarung Banggi and aside from his unique ability in playing almost every musical instrument, Col. Loving immediately made him a member of the band.
Gregorio was then assigned to prepare the score of the song for the band which played his composition several times in the following year.
By popular request, the Philippine Constabulary Band played his composition several times during Sunday afternoon concerts at the Luneta before World War II.
Sarung Banggi then very popular became the favorite song of seranaders.
Lolo Poten was one among those who were chosen to compete with other musicians during the Golden Gate International Exposition in the United States in 1938.
But while on board the S.S. President Pierce on its way to Honolulu, the Bicolano composer got sick of pneumonia. He was rushed to the Fort Shafter Hospital in Honolulu but succumbed shortly after arrival on February 22, 1939.
During his death, Gregorio held the rank of Corporal in the Philippine Constabulary.
To mourn his passing, the ship delayed its voyage for three hours. His remains were brought back to the Philippines and interred at the La Loma cemetery.
The remains of the Bicolano composer was brought to the Bicol Heritage Park at Camp General Simeon Ola for full military honors.
A bust of Lolo Poten carved on a volcanic stone is one of the attraction at Camp General Simeon Ola Bicol Heritage Park or Kampo ng Bayan, a pet project of then Police Chief Superintendent Marcelo Navarro during his stint as Bicol police chief.
Camp Ola was first known as Regan Barracks, headquarters of the Philippine Constabulary in the province of Albay. The Philippine Constabulary is the forerunner of the Philippine National Police.
National Historical Institute Director Vic Badoy cited Albay 1st district Congressman Edcel Lagman, Albay Governor Fernando Gonzalez and Sto. Domingo town Mayor Herbie Aquas for their support in the search and transfer of the remains of Lolo Poten.
“Sarung Banggi is not only recognized nationally but also internationally. We are lucky to have the composer like Potenciano Gregorio who at this point in time hindi nawawala sa puso ng mga Filipino lalo na sa mga Bicolano,” Badoy said.
Sarung Banggi was acclaimed not only in the Philippines but internationally as well. Bicol’s immortal love song was sang during the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in Flushing Meadow in New York. USA in June of 1951. The late Philippine Ambassador Carlos P. Romulo was then the president of the UN General Assembly. (PIA) [top]