Santa Rita, with a total land area of 3, 296 hectares, is a pear-shaped town in the heart of Pampanga. Bounded on the north by the mountainous terrain of Porac, on the east by Bacolor, and on the south by “Wawa” or Guagua, the second smallest town in the province is basically agricultural and accessible to to commercial centers and market transit points via the Olongapo-Gapan-San Fernando Highway.
Santa Rita had its humble beginnings. Records show that sometime in 1697, the town started as a settlement at a place called Gasac, now Barangay San Isidro. During those times, politically and religiously, the town of Porac managed the affairs of the town.
There, it eventually expanded to a wide territory embracing today’s Barangays San Vicente, San Matias, Santa Monica, San Agustin and San Juan. It was in 1724 that Santa Rita was carved out of Porac, although not as a separate parish. The year 1771 became a religious highlight when Santa Rita assumed parochial independence through the efforts of Rev. Fr. Eustaquio Polina.
As an independent parish, Santa Rita needed a church of its own. In 1839, Rev. Fr. Francisco Rayo, then the town’s parish priest, spearheaded the herculean task of building the present Santa Rita Parish Church located in what is now known as Barangay San Jose. “Polo” or forced labor, which was legal at that time, was used to expedite the construction.
Due to the proximity of Santa Rita to the town of Bacolor and also because of the hispanization of and the eventual transfer of the capital of the Spanish Philippines by Governor General Simon de Anda to the latter, Santa Rita was referred to as Santa Rita de Lele or neighboring Santa Rita and Santa Rita Baculud.
Sometime between 1904 and 1907, when the Spanish regime had already ended, an attempt to annex Santa Rita to Bacolor was made. The onset of the American military and civil occupation under the administration of Governor William Howard Taft and Governor Joven of Pampanga caused Santa Rita to be merged with Bacolor.
The setback, however, was promptly resolved through the intervention of Don Basilio Ocampo and Don Magno Gosioco, then the incumbent mayor. Their, crusade, backed by the towns folks’ resounding protest, enabled them to regain Santa Rita’s autonomy.
The post-liberation era was a period of harsh and rigid discipline, of witch-hunting and vendetta against the “Makapili.” It was an era of emasculation and strict adherence to discipline. “Polo” was again used for the reconstruction of the public plaza.
The year 1950 saw the brand of discipline of Mang Dadong Dizon. He was feared by the towns folks. This was also the time when a dissident leader named “Pampanga” was captured and incarcerated in the municipal hall. The prisoner, however, demonstrated civic-mindedness when he planted shady and fruit-bearing trees around the plaza.
Not long after, in 1951, rebels raided and burned the municipal building, reducing it to ashes including every document safeguarded by it.
It was the election into office by the longest reigning mayor of Santa Rita, Hon. German Galang that brought peace. Despite his lack of academic credentials, he was well-loved by his constituents, enabling him to retain his incumbency for more that two decades.
In 1991, a catastrophic event happened. The more than four-hundred years of dormancy of Mt. Pinatubo finally ended, making Pampanga and the neighboring provinces virtual deserts of volcanic sand and ashes. Worse, the ensuing years even became horrors of unimaginable proportions with the onslaught of lahar or mudflows triggered by the rainy seasons. Santa Rita’s Barangays San Juan, San Isidro and San Jose were half-buried with a few casualties.
To address the lahar’s threat to life and property, the national government, under the administration of Pres. Fidel V. Ramos, built a concrete protection, known today as the Megadike. This and the unwavering faith to God and of the miraculous intercession of patroness Apung Dita were believed to be the reasons why Santa Rita, which was expected to be fully devastated by lahar, was saved.
In solemn gratitude, the people of Santa Rita, under the spiritual leadership of their parish priest Rev. Fr. Jess Mariano, Misa Sa Control was spearheaded and sustained as an annual celebration of thanksgiving.
Santa Rita, at present, proudly stands as a survivor; a town of resiliency, hard work and progress. Known as one of the best agriculturists and farmers in Pampanga, the Riteňans preserve the beautiful tradition of farming. As a matter of fact, the people of Santa Rita were the first to adopt the native plowing system of furrowing to the depth of more than 12 inches for planting sugarcane points, known locally as simberga after its Riteňan originator, Simeon Vergara.
The town’s fine delicacies like the turrones de casoy, sans rival and the duman remain unrivaled up to this time. Duman, the cooked and pounded glutinous rice, famous for its green color, fragrance and exquisite taste, has given birth to the Duman Festival, an annual exhibition of the best performing artists of the province and authentic Kapampangan cuisine.
ArtiSta.Rita, the town’s iconic cultural group, founded the Duman Festival. This cultural advocacy has merited the group with the 2OO4 Most Outstanding Kapampangan (MOKA) Special Citation for the Performing Arts and a national award, the 2OO7 Gawad Alab ng Haraya for Best Cultural Performance given by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).
On December 16, 2009, another festival was born in Santa Rita, the Cadena de Suman, under the able and motherly leadership of the Hon. Yolanda Pineda, the only female mayor Santa Rita ever had. The annual festival aims to promote the suman and the inspiring solidarity of the Riteñans, as evidenced by the participation of the town’s ten barangays in suman and kubol-making competitions and cultural presentations from academic institutions.
In 2011, another historic milestone was again achieved under the incumbency of Hon. Mayor Yolanda Pineda. This time, the municipal building was reconstructed to full grandiosity, reminiscent of the elegance of the bygone era, while heralding the dawning of a robust economy and a deeper reverence to tradition and piety.
Santa Rita has also become an attractive site for national movie settings. Film makers and production designers find its heritage church and ancestral houses appealing. In the 7O’s and 9O’s, Villa Efifania located at Barangay San Jose, became the main set of Lino Brocka’s Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang and Laurice Guillen’s Tanging Yaman respectively. Numerous TV productions like the Filipino version of Marimar and Mga Mata Ni Angelita were also shot in the town, among many others.
Santa Rita is humbled by the acquisition of the first class relic, a flesh “ex carne” of the patroness of the impossible, Santa Rita de Cascia. Such holy achievement was through the efforts of its parish priest Msgr. Eugene Reyes. This holy remnant has attracted countless pilgrims, supplicating for the saint’s powerful intercessions.
Santa Rita, one of Pampanga’s most peaceful towns, the abode of those with deep and active religiosity; a haven of warm smiles, simplicity and unmistakable hospitality; a progressive town of limitless possibilities.
Santa Rita, kaluguran ning Diyos at Apung Dita; balen da reng mangasipag at matenakan; ing pagmaragul ning Pampanga!
(Santa Rita, beloved of God and Santa Rita; the town of the hard working and the wise; the pride of Pampanga.)