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Maguindanáo Massacre: 5 years, 0 justice

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La Laguna Lakeshore Tour (dry run)

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FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES & WITH ONE’S PAST present: La Laguna Lakeshore Tour (dry run)! Image design by NCCA’s León.

We prayed for sunny skies. And we got more than what we bargained for. The weather wasn’t just fine during the dry run of our La Laguna Lakeshore Tour venture last November 16 — it was literally dry. So dry it was I thought summer swapped months with the cold season! Nevertheless, we were thankful for the cooperative weather because we were able to enjoy fully our walkathon of our selected lakeshore towns.

As discussed in a podcast two Sundays ago, me and Mr. With One’s Past are planning of making a guided tour of La Laguna Province. To start the ball rolling, we thought of doing a dry run scheduled for November 16, another Sunday. And since the only marketing tool we have at the moment is social media, we thought of publicizing about the dry run in Facebook and Twitter. Arnaldo doesn’t have a personal Facebook account, so I did most of the announcing (with some help from wifey). Those I had in mind were our former colleagues from APAC Customer Services (Los Ángeles Times account). I wrote a post about it on my wall, then tagged people left and right as I was not really expecting a lot to join. Surprisingly, many showed interest, even those outside of our LAT circle of friends. Even some members of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts confirmed their attendance which was a positive sign.

The only problem is that we were unprepared for that overwhelming reception. Logistics became a problem. Arnaldo wasn’t able to find a cheap but comfortable ride. So we had to content ourselves with his car which could only fit a maximum of four to five passengers. Good thing that one of his friends, a former subordinate of his, volunteered to bring his own car which could carry five more. We then had to limit our number of guests, trimming them down to eight (which included a five-year-old girl). Grudgingly, we had to turn down many others who had wanted to join.

On the eve of the tour, Arnaldo dropped by our place to make more plans on how we are going to conduct the tour. It was drizzling the whole day; we were so thankful that, on the next day, we woke up to sunny skies. Our prayers were answered.

Meeting place was at Alabang, Muntinlupà (at the firestation near Festival Supermall). The exciting part is that all of those who were to meet us do not know each other. And me and Arnaldo do not know all of them, either. Three were from the NCCA: Rei, León, and Myra (well, she used to be). The other one is Cuya Joey, a former colleague of mine from APAC’s Unicare account who blogs at Manila Labyrinth. The one who brought a car was Jemuel. Jemuel brought with him two friends of his: former colleague Teng who in turn tagged along her little daughter Amara, and Ruel who is also a history buff.

After some quick introductions and debriefing about the tour, we boarded our rides. Me and Krystal (who served as our photographer) rode in Jemuel’s car with his group while the rest joined Arnaldo’s. We all left at around 8:00 AM and then arrived at the Rizal Shrine in Calambâ in less than an hour. What greeted us there was unexpected from a usually slow Sunday morning at the town proper — hordes of high school students delivered by huge buses! It somehow dampened my momentum because I was already revved up for what I was about to say during the tour of the house. There was a quick change of plan; we proceeded to the town church first to show them where exactly the National Hero was baptized.

Iglesia de San Juan Bautista (Calambâ).

We returned to the shrine a few minutes later, but the hundreds of students who were still lined up towards the entrance were crammed like MRT passengers during rush hour. Since we were not part of the field trip, we gained easy access. But the noise, not to mention the heat because of so many people, made me dizzy and uncomfortable. I’ve never seen so many people at the Rizal Shrine, even during those Rizal Day ceremonies that I have attended in the past. Fortunately, we survived. I was still able to explain to them the parts of a bahay na bató, with Arnaldo pitching in from time to time. Outside the shrine, both of us gave more interesting historical tidbits about the “Hometown of the National Hero“.

José Rizal Shrine (Calambâ). From left to right: Ruel, Jemuel, Teng with her daughter Amara, León, Arnaldo, me, Myra, Rei, and Cuya Joey.

Our next stop was for lunch. Surprisingly, traffic was a breeze at the national highway near the UPLB area. Then we realized that it was a Sunday. We arrived at Victoria and dined at the curiously named Itlog Ni Kuya. The theme of this quaint restaurant by the sleepy highway complements the town’s nickname as the “Duck Raising Center of Filipinas” since they serve Victoria’s delicacies: ducks, duck eggs, quail, and related products. Here one can find the best-tasting salted eggs (itlóg na pulá): not too salty nor greasy, but tasty still.

Itlog Ni Kuya (Victoria).

Hearty lunch stopover at the country’s duck raising center.

After a nice meal and some pleasantries, we drove straight to “La Noble Villa de Pila“, the only Lagunense town declared as a National Historical Landmark mainly because of its well-preserved and conserved picturesque ancestral homes and baroque church, all left unscathed —in somewhat miraculous fashion— during the last war which heavily damaged many other towns in the province (thus one reason why Pileños proudly proclaim their town as “Bayang Pinagpalà“).

Both Victoria and Pila have a shared history because the former used to be a part of the latter. In fact, the original town of Pila used to be located in present-day Victoria. The ruins of the original church of Pila can still be seen in Victoria’s Barrio Pagalañgan. All this I explained to them like a boss. Kinda.

Giving a brief background about the beautiful heritage town of Pila.

Iglesia de San Antonio de Padua (Pila).

The NCCA folks and Teng are so amused by Casa Hipólito Rivera’s creative attempt on adaptive reuse. Almost all ancestral homes in Pila are well-preserved, many of which have been turned into business establishments, but without any major alterations done to the houses’ physical features.

After a fun photo-ops around Pila’s picturesque town plaza, we proceeded to nearby Pagsanján, the “Tourist Capital of La Laguna“, so-called mainly because of Bumbuñgan River’s exciting rapids that lead towards the world-famous Pagsanján Falls (which is actually within the territory of Cavinti). But there are more reasons as to why Pagsanján merits this lofty title. One of them is this antique stone arch.

That’s me, Jemuel, and Ruel by the Puerta Real (Royal Gate).

Known as the “Puerta Real” (Royal Gate), this stone arch is made entirely out of adobe with carabao milk and lime used for mortar. It was constructed from 1878 to 1880 and was inaugurated in 1894 by Pedro Paterno, a contemporary of Rizal, who wrote the first Filipino novel entitled “Nínay”. Paterno later became the province’s representative (first district) to the first Philippine Assembly from 1907 to 1909.

The last time I gave this arch a closer look was almost three years ago. It still looked OK back then. But last Sunday, while inspecting the arch with Jemuel and Ruel, I sensed that something was wrong with it. After checking it out closely, I noticed that it was recently coated with cement finish! This unwise move appears to have just happened recently.  This is not good because cement is harmful to adobe. And worse, the historical marker was no longer there!

My golly. Whoever ordered this double desecration of Puerta Real ought to be poured with fresh cement.

Anyway, after that sad discovery, we drove past the arch and slowly passed through “Calle Real” (Royal Road), another one of Pagsanján’s gems. Left and right are handsomely preserved ancestral homes, many of which are older than one’s great grandparents. At the end of that engaging road is the white-painted town church. But before visiting it, Arnaldo thought it best to first visit the semi-abandoned house of the ancestors of our esteemed historian friend, Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera.

At the rooftop of the semi-abandoned Casa Gómez, familiarizing our guests with Pagsanján’s geography. One of the earliest settlers, if not the founder, of this house was Francisco Gómez, a 17th-century “alférez” (sub-lieutenant) of Pagsanján who married an india (native) by the name of María Dimaculañgan. Two of their descendants were Premio Zóbel winners: Guillermo Gómez Windham (the first person to have won the prestigious award) in 1922, and our personal friend Guillermo Gómez Rivera in 1975.

It was Arnaldo’s idea to include this in the itinerary, something which I agreed to. Admittedly, this bahay na bató is not tourist material. While some of its old features are still intact, most are already dilapidated. The stairway’s balustrade was said to have been stolen, which I doubt (I suspect it was sold). The “yacál” flooring is already in bad shape. The window panels were no longer in place. The ceiling was a mess. Several informal settlers already live within the house, having made a home out of each “dormitorio“. The purpose of the visit was to instill awareness or an “awakening” among our guests about how today’s generation treat their ancestral homes. Because this kind of treatment often happens in many ancestral houses, most especially in Metro Manila and in surrounding provinces. Such a house in this condition seems out of place in a beautiful heritage town like Pagsanján whose many ancestral houses remain intact and livable.

Afterwards, we walked towards the town church. It’s just nearby since Casa Gómez is right behind it.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Pagsanján).

After exploring the interiors of the church, we walked towards the riverbank which is just a few steps away. The area we went to is where the terminal of the “banqueros” (boatmen of the Pagsanján Rapids) are located. It is the perfect spot to bring tourists in order for them not just to know but to see the origin of the town’s name.

The name Pagsanján originated from the word “pinágsañgahan” which means “branching out” because, coming from Laguna de Bay’s eastern bay to the north, the Lumbán River branches out (“nagsásañga“) into two: Bumbuñgan River to the left which leads straight to the world-famous falls, and Balanac River to the right which goes through the town of Magdalena (see photo below). Before the Spanish advent, Chinese traders often landed in this area where they traded their wares with the natives.

Pagsanján is actually a “bonus” to our lakeshore tour because it is not situated beside Laguna de Bay. It is a landlocked municipality, surrounded by Lumbán to the north, Cavinti to the east, Santa Cruz to the west, and Magdalena to the south.  Its only direct connection to the lake is Lumbán River which it shares with the Municipality of Lumbán. In history, Pagsanján was a mere visita or barrio of Lumbán during Spanish times.

Speaking of Lumbán, “The Embroidery Capital of Filipinas” was next on our itinerary. It was already past three in the afternoon, little Amara was weary, and we were way behind our itinerary. That’s why we decided to stay at Lumbán’s town proper only for a short time. In fact, the impromptu plan was to just drive by the church. But Arnaldo decided to drop off altogether. At the grassy town plaza between the church and the Lumbán River, we gave our guests a brief historical background of the town as well as other interesting tidbits (the lumbán tree, the Laguna Copperplate Inscription, etc.).

Iglesia de San Sebastián el Mártir (Lumbán).

When I shared to them that my kids had an exciting time at the rooftop of the church last January, Cuya Joey wanted to climb as well. Unfortunately, we were running out of time. We really had to leave for the next town. Maybe next time, Cuya Joey. But by then, you will have to pay us and sign that very important waiver so that I can finally push you off from any bell tower we’d climb (insert evil laughter here). :D

Arnaldo and myself sharing historical tidbits about Lumbán. Although we do not employ theatrics and comedy in our tour, we try our best to make what we share as interesting and as accurate as possible but with occasional wit and laughter.

Hurriedly afterwards, we went to Paeté, “The Carving Capital of Filipinas“. Our first stop was the town church. We parked in front of the municipal hall (Teng had to be left behind because Amara was already taking a nap). While walking towards the patio to view the church’s renowned façade, I told the guests to follow me and not to look at the façade just yet. They were wondering why. Several meters away from the façade, I climbed a concrete planter box (a note to environmentalists: no plants or animals were harmed during the dry run of our tour). I told the rest to join me. Upon climbing, I then told them that they can finally turn around to look at the church. They were all astounded with the view…

Iglesia de Santiago Matamoros (Paeté).

I always recommend that very spot whenever viewing the church of Paeté. When I brought Krystal here last November 2, I bid her to do the same. She’s been hearing so much from me about this spectacular view of the churchc. That’s why she was excitedly obedient when I told her not to look at the church until she had climbed the concrete planter box. She couldn’t contain the excitement and glee on her face when she finally saw the splendid vista. Indeed, Paeté Church is best viewed from this distance because it includes Monte Humaráp behind it, thus giving out a picturesquely breathtaking effect.

The centuries-old paintings of José Luciano Dans inside Paeté Church.

At Paeté Church, we had time to climb the bell tower since that town was our penultimate stop, anyway. Jemuel and I accompanied bell-tower freak Cuya Joey up the campanario (it was just my second time up there). From the bell tower, one can have a 360° view of the town. Up there, the vista of the town’s multicolored houses, of Mount Humaráp’s lush greenery, and of Laguna de Bay’s sparkling eastern bay, coupled with a strong, fresh breeze, is simply indescribable. It makes you want to scream and be stoic at the same time.

Photo courtesy of Jemuel.

However, it is not advisable to climb up the tower without proper supervision — my supervision to be exact, haha. But seriously, the wooden ladder inside the bell tower is already ancient and rickety. And outside the dome, the terrace is very low, making it scary to walk or even stand upright. That is why if you want to experience the euphoria that this height offers, you will have to book a tour with us.

Only boring people will get tired of visiting Paeté’s cultural landmark: Kape Kesada Art Gallery. This place also serves coffee, including the expensive Kopi Luwak. With us is Bevs, the friendly owner‘s trusted assistant.

We also passed by the popular Kape Kesada Art Gallery where we had some freshly brewed coffee. Too bad our friend Dr. Nilo Valdecantos, the owner of the place, was away to attend to some urgent matter. I was hoping that he would deliver a Tagalog ode to our group, hehe. But his trusted girl Friday Bevs was there to attend to us. Some of the group also strolled around Calle Quesada to shop for some woodwork. A lady vendor selling quesong putî (a delicacy of Lumbán and Santa Cruz) also dropped by to sell her wares. Two woodcarvers were working on a bulky piece of wood, trying to fashion out of it perhaps a dog. We also saw two caucasians who sat in front of the gallery drinking beer. Culang na lang si Vice President Bínay.

During our coffee break, we had an open forum and asked our guests about their opinion of this La Laguna Lakeshore Tour that we are planning to launch sometime in January 2015. We asked them if they have any complaints, suggestions, etc. It was a lively discussion which helped us see avenues for improvement. For instance, Arnaldo opened up an interesting question to the group: should we still include Casa Gómez in the itinerary? Many in the group honestly find it uninteresting. But Ruel pointed out that if we could only tour future guests in a live ancestral house, i.e., not “artificial” like the Rizal Shrine in Calambâ, prior to entering Pagsanján, then that might add more interest towards our objective (instilling concern towards ancestral homes). Our guests should be able to enter a living ancestral house prior to entering a dying one in order to stir in them the sentiment that we want them to realize. Ruel said that he heard of a house in Pila that is open to tourists, but he couldn’t recall which house. Me and Arnaldo will have to trouble ourselves about that in the coming weeks.

Everybody pitched in their suggestions, possible scenarios, tour rates, etc. Even Bevs gave her thoughts about the tour. We are so grateful to all of you guys!

My daughter Krystal embracing a giant pencil, probably carved out from coco lumber. There are more or less 80 woodcraft factories in Paeté, with the more famous ones found along Calle Quesada at the town proper. The industry provides 70% of the population’s livelihood.

After Paeté, our last stop was Páquil (even at gunpoint I will never spell it as Pakil). Teng had to wake up Amara since it was our last stop. Besides, everybody in our group should see the marvelous façade that was designed by Bartolomé Palatino, the same Paeteño who designed the façade of nearby Paeté Church.

Páquil is known as the “Home of the Turumba Festival“, the longest fiesta in the country and probably in all of Christendom. This festival is held seven times a year, beginning on a Friday before Holy Week up to the seventh Sunday after Easter as well as during the town’s fiesta on May 12 (Fiesta Paquileña) and the feast day of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15, the same date when the first Turumba was held (15 September 1788).

The church was filled when we got there (at half past five). Before some photo-ops, Arnaldo gathered all of our guests at the plaza fronting the church. There I explained to them that the central figure of the Turumba Festival is a painting of the Virgin Mary locally known as Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Turumba. This mysterious work of art (9″ x 11″ oil painting on canvas) is now enshrined in its own chapel on the second floor of the convent. I said mysterious because its origin is up to now shrouded in mystery. According to local legend, the framed painting was seen floating in Laguna de Bay by fishermen. They were able to tow it towards the shore but the framed painting was so heavy, the locals could not even lift it. News of this discovery immediately spread throughout town. They called the parish priest who was surprised to recognize that the natives have just discovered a painting of Our Lady of Sorrows. The priest then cited the Litaniae Sanctorum as the people started singing and dancing out of joy and awe around the mysterious painting. Miraculously, after another attempt of lifting it, the people at last were able to do so. And as they triumphantly carried the painting towards the church, they were singing songs of praise while dancing, with the ladies joyfully clacking their “baquiâ” (wooden clogs) along the way. Thenceforth, the image was referred to as “Turumba”.

NCCA’s Rei asked a good question: what in the world does “Turumba” mean? I told him that according to the late National Artist Alejandro Roces, it could have been derived from two words: “turò” which means “to point”, and “umbáy” which is a dirge sung by sick people. I added, though, that this may all be just an etymological speculation on the part of Roces. In short, nobody really knows what Turumba means.

Iglesia de San Pedro de Alcántara (Páquil).

The façade turns into reddish-gold as the rays of the setting sun envelops it.

Before leaving Páquil, Arnaldo and I directed their attention towards the façade of the church not just to marvel at its intricate designs of Renaissance and Egyptian influences but also to see the splendid reddish-gold glow caused by the setting sun. Probably no amount of photography would be able to capture this effect. But we’re willing to bring you here just to experience it!

We left a few minutes before six in the evening, weary but satisfied. It was a fulfilling experience, at least for my part, to share knowledge about the province I love, and to tour them around it. I’ve been to these beautiful towns many times in the past. But to revisit these places this time with many people who have never been there is something else. I never dreamed of speaking in front of a group, most of all tagging along many people to a place unfamiliar to them. Actually, I can do some public speaking so long as I have a prepared speech, or maybe if I were tipsy (as I always say, I’m a writer, not a talker). So what happened last Sunday was a revelation. Many thanks to Arnaldo’s insistence and encouragement.

One more thing: all of us made new friends. At the start of the tour, not everyone in the group knew each other. A little later, we were all laughing at León’s nostalgic “Labs Ko Si Babe” story about Pila! So this is another bonus when you join our tour — you will gain new friends!

Click here to view all the photos of our educational/familiarization tour of my beloved adoptive province!

Even this church’s side entrance is not spared from artistry! It could even rival the façade of other churches!

Arnaldo and I will be announcing more updates about our “La Laguna Lakeshore Tour” in the coming days to those who are interested to explore our beautiful province by the lake. Also, a “La Laguna Mountain Tour” is in the works. We also have in mind a food tour of the province as well as a heritage tour in other provinces. Therefore, and whether we like it or not, we will be needing a new blog for this venture. And if this project works out and becomes profitable, we will be setting up a Filhispanic foundation catering to Filipino studies and even flamenco dances (as envisioned by Señor Gómez). Later on, we’ll conceptualize a Filipino-themed restaurant. Then we’ll buy more land and property and build Filipino-style condominiums and villas, setup beach resorts, buy more land and property, and eventually, establish a huge mall. We’ll probably call it La Solidaridad Mall or something to that effect.

But first thing’s first. This La Laguna Lakeshore Tour should work out fine. Qué Dios nos bendiga.

Stay tuned for further announcements. You may follow me and/or Arnaldo on Twitter as we discuss the progress of this tourism project. You can even join us in the discussion and provide us some inputs that might be of valuable help to us. ¡Hasta entonces!

An unpublished book and some throwback “Thank Yous…”

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Pepe:

It was nice to hear former Mayor Calixto Catáquiz’s friendly voice again.

This charismatic political veteran, now known as San Pedro Tunasán‘s “Living Legend”, was the man who helped put my trust back into politics. I haven’t seen nor talked to him for months because I’ve been busy trying to sort out financial problems brought about by Yeyette’s delicate and life-threatening childbirth. This afternoon, I received a phone call from him. The line was terrible, but his reassuring voice still went through. From what little I understood, he said something about going to Ángeles City tomorrow to check out some rare wood carving or something like that. I would have agreed to go with him but I couldn’t because I accompany my daughter Krystal every Saturday afternoon to her flamenco class in Rockwell under the tutelage of another living legend, the great Señor Gómez (tomorrow’s only her sixth session, yet she has already learned three dances!).

Although Mayor Calex is a family friend for years, I only started to learn more about him and his life’s work back in 2008 when Arnaldo and I started to work on his biography in the hopes of breaking it into the publishing scene (every writer’s dream). But Mayor Calex’s biography still remains in developmental hell — due to personal reasons, Arnaldo completely left the project to me; Mayor Calex faced several political controversies which led to his unjust disqualification from the mayoralty race last year; and I, for years, have been struggling to keep awake every day just to read and write because of my nightly corporate appointments. Sad.

Anyway, I’m glad that Mayor Calex called because he also reminded me about the book project. He is still keen on having it published. And I’m 90% done with it. 90%, because I have to add the recent events that had transpired in his life as an effective public servant who catapulted a once obscure Lagunense town into one of CALABARZON‘s strongest cities today. I am now reblogging Arnaldo’s recent post wherein he published beauty queen-historian Gemma Cruz Araneta’s brief review of the book’s first few chapters. The ageless Gemma, a fellow hispanista (she used to be a member of the Círculo Hispano Filipino where I was once its youngest member), had our manuscript reviewed and was kind enough to publish it in “Landscape“, her column in Manila Bulletin. Gemma also told me that he already met Mayor Calex many years ago to transact some realty business. Small world.

Mayor Calex with the Alas kids. Taken last February 22 (Sampaguita Festival).

By the way, in Arnaldo’s blogpost (which I am reblogging now), he also included clippings of that Landscape column which Gemma wrote. Excerpts from chapter 1 of Mayor Calex’s biography appears there. It deals mainly with San Pedro Tunasán’s early beginnings. I would just like to add that I have already edited chapter 1. So if you see any errors regarding historical fact, don’t worry; I’ve already corrected them.

Without further ado, here’s Arnaldo…

Originally posted on With one's past...:

I took part in writing a biography a few years ago. It was about the longest serving town mayor of San Pedro Laguna, Calixto Cataquiz, an unpretentious local politician who became a friend during the course of the project.

I would have not agreed to write the bio if my friend, Pepe Alas, was not on board. I was a supervisor at a BPO in Alabang; Pepe, a Spanish speaking agent under my program. I assumed the writing task would be easier working with someone I knew personally. We often times wrote while we’re both in the office.

We had a great time writing. Of course, there were a few bumps and misses but nothing we couldn’t handle. The only frustration was that the book remained unpublished.

The last time I caught up with Mayor Cataquiz was during Pepe’s wedding. He told me of a few political issues that made…

View original 215 more words

¡Tara ná sa La Laguna! (podcast)

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OK. I guess some of you know by now this crazy decision of mine of becoming a tour guide for La Laguna Province in the hopes of having my own Rosario property one day. Last Sunday night, me and Arnaldo, the brains behind this senses-shattering tourism project, made an impromptu podcast to discuss about it — what to expect from our guided tour, the places to visit, why we’re doing it, how many haunted houses we can explore in the province, etc. Well, the last one’s a corny joke. So just listen to the 30-minute podcast below (episode 4 of our yet-to-be-named irregular podcast show). And don’t forget your cereals while listening to us.

Hope you could join us in beautiful La Laguna Province! We have lots of highly interesting places to explore! ¡Tara ná! :D

Travel with us to La Laguna Province!

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In early in 2012, I was invited to write a coffee table book for La Laguna Province. It was one of former Governor E.R. Ejército’s priority projects for the province’s culture and tourism sector. It took me more than a year to finish it, having had many sleepless moments (taking forty winks usually inside a provincial bus) because I had to juggle wage slavery, household responsibilities, and painstaking research and travel in between. I even developed varicose veins on both of my hands and forearms due to overtyping (and it pains me every single day up to this very moment). Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, the book project did not come into fruition. I am not even informed of its status anymore.

On the bright side, I was able to tour the whole province and got to meet many important people there and even got to befriend some of them. Probably the best part of that experience was that I was able to discover the province’s long-lost foundation date without even trying (and without being given proper recognition, haha). But still, my dream of becoming a published writer remains unfulfilled. And worse, all that hardwork I poured for what could have been my very first book was all for naught.

Or so I thought.

At the Rizal Shrine in Calambâ.

Several days ago, my good ol’ buddy Arnaldo broached to me this idea of his about us becoming tour guides. Actually, he already suggested the idea to me months ago. I flatly declined, telling him that I’m just a blogger, that the only people I can tour without my knees shaking out of nervousness are my family. But Arnaldo’s the resilient type of guy. He was finally able to convince me by saying that I’m no different from him, that he’s just a blogger too. And he added that the edge that we have over other tourist guides is our background in Filipino History. We’re not just history buffs but citizen historians (gracias por introducirme a esta terminología, Señor José Perdigón). While some tourist guides are doing what they’re doing for the sake of, perhaps, fame or money (or both), we intend this venture to be an extension of our respective blogs’ advocacy: to raise awareness on the true being of our national identity by providing a correct interpretation of our country’s history.

A scenic farm in Victoria.

We had “quinulób na itic“, salted eggs, and rice during a lunch stopover at “Itlog Ni Kuya” in Victoria. This town (once a part of Pila) is known as the “Duck Raising Center of Filipinas”.

Of course we have to admit the fact that earning millions of bucks from this tourism venture every month is enticing. And because of the exposure we’d be getting, Arnaldo and I will certainly receive lucrative offers from Star Cinema, Viva Films, ABS-CBN, GMA, and all those media giants to become their contract stars. But that’s beside our true objective and is only secondary. Believe it or not. Anyway, you will fully believe this more once you learn how much we will be charging our guests (it’s guaranteed to be a bargain)!

Ang Bayang Pinagpalà.

At first, the idea was to provide a tour within the Metro Manila area. But I cautioned Arnaldo that Metro Manila has been toured to death and is somewhat crowded with tour guides already (Carlos Celdrán, Ivan Man Dy, and Bryan Ocampo to name a few). They may not be as good-looking as the two of us, but still, the metropolis playground’s already filled. So why not do it somewhere near the National Capital Region? And then it hit me: why not La Laguna, a place which I am very familiar with? Arnaldo himself, being a resident of nearby Muntinlupa City, has also traveled extensively in La Laguna and has blogged many of its towns and cities numerous times. Besides, we are not aware of any regular tour guides covering the province. And more importantly, so many Filipinos have yet to know and experience the charming beauty of La Laguna’s rustic scenery, history, culture, and heritage. Many people know the province usually because of its hot springs (“¡Tara ná sa Pansol!“), Enchanted Kingdom, and being the birthplace of José Rizal, a reality which I find unfair and a bit demeaning because La Laguna has a lot more to offer other than hot spring resorts, national shrines, or carnivals.

The “Puerta Real” (or “Arco Real”) in Pagsanján has been standing on this road since 1878.

My interest with this tourism project grew each time Arnaldo drops by at our place to discuss about it. Even my wife Yeyette has high hopes for it. The two of them are damn sure that this will work out. But I really don’t know. Not that I’m a pessimist (actually, I am), but whenever I remember my failures as a writer, I feel so frustrated. Good thing that their positive attitude is contagious.

That’s why I’m now blogging about it. :-) Really, I think it is worth a try!

Completed in 1600, the church of Saint Sebastian the Martyr in Lumbán town proper is the first stone church in the whole province. Lumbán was also the “matriz de todos pueblos” or the mother town of all Franciscan-founded communities in the area.

So, when I was fully convinced to accept this project, Arnaldo trusted me with the liberty to choose which towns we should tour since I was more familiar with the place. It wasn’t that easy — I guarantee you that each and every town in La Laguna has something interesting to explore (yes, there are also noteworthy sights to see even in urban San Pedro Tunasán or in obscure Rizal!). But we had to face the fact that it is not possible to tour the whole province within a day or two. And we needed to tour guests for only a day. So after much thought and deliberation, I told him that we should do “two packages”. Package A would be a lakeshore tour, or those towns located right beside Laguna de Bay. Package B would be a mountain tour, or those towns located upwards Monte Banajao. In order for the tour to push through, we should have a minimum of 15 guests. Arnaldo said that he will take care of the logistics (particularly the vehicle) and much of the talking, hehe! Because I’m more of a listener than a speaker. However, in the event that we will have Spanish-speaking guests, then I will have to take over.

For now, our focus is on Package A. And the tentative itinerary for it is:

Calambâ —> Pila —> Pagsanján —> Lumbán —> Paeté —> Páquil.

As can be seen from the photos on this blogpost, me, my daughter Krystal, and Arnaldo already made an ocular  inspection of these places last November 2.

Paeté’s “Living Legend” Dr. Nilo Valdecantos of Kape Kesada teaches my daughter how to grind expensive Kopi Luwak beans into fine powder. Yes, we had the rare chance of savoring the most expensive coffee in the world for free! Thanks for this, Doc Nilo! You’re the best!

The Church of Saint Peter of Alcántara in Páquil. Both Arnaldo and I concur that this is the most handsome church in the whole province of La Laguna. And I bet many will agree with us! Probably even that dog behind me! This will be our tour’s final stop.

“Everything happens for a reason”, Arnaldo reassured me, saying that all the sacrifice that I did for that shelved La Laguna book project really had to happen. Because it was bound to open a new door for us, after all.

I hope he’s right. Hágase la voluntad de Dios.  :-)

Click here to view all photos of our La Laguna road trip last November 2! And for more details of our tour, you may contact us here for the meantime!

¡Viajemos a La Laguna!

Was the famous Leyte Landing of 1944 reenacted?

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Today our country commemorates the 70th anniversary of the famous Leyte Landing. That historic event from World War II features the landing of General Douglas MacArthur in Leyte Gulf to begin his campaign of recapturing and liberating our country from Japanese occupation, as well as to fulfill his now iconic “I shall return” promise. Together with him were President-in-exile Sergio Osmeña, Lieutenant General Richard Sutherland, Major General Charles A. Willoughby, Brigadier General Carlos P. Rómulo, and the rest of the Sixth Army forces. From his book The Fooling of America: The Untold Story of Carlos P. Rómulo, chemist-turned-historian Pío Andrade writes:

On October 20, 1944, following preliminary landings in Sulúan, Homonhón, and Dinagat islands between October 17-19, American soldiers landed in Leyte to begin liberation of the Philippines from the Japanese. After several waves of troops had landed, MacArthur landed at Red Beach, Palo, Leyte. It was a historic moment for MacArthur and the Philippines.

The above photo, now regarded as one of the most memorable images from World War II, is what the whole world knows about the Leyte Landing. However, in the same book, Andrade has more to reveal:

MacArthur’s Leyte landing has been firmly etched in the mind of the public thus: the general wading in knee-deep water with Philippine President Osmeña and Carlos P. Rómulo. Actually, there are doubts whether that picture is the real first Leyte landing of MacArthur. A daughter of one of President Quezon’s military aides told this writer that the picture was a reenactment. There were three shots of the Leyte landing picture taken from different angles thereby giving the impression that the landing was rehearsed. The New York Times reported that President Osmeña came ashore in Leyte on October 21, meaning that the famous Leyte landing picture was not taken the day MacArthur first stepped on Red Beach. MacArthur, himself, signed and dated a different Leyte landing picture which showed neither Osmeña nor Rómulo.

And that photo which Andrade was referring to? Here:

 

 

 

Real or reenacted, Rómulo was flamboyantly dressed in the Leyte landing picture. While professional soldiers Generals MacArthur, Sutherland, and Willoughby wore military caps, paper soldier Rómulo wore a steel helmet, the better to show his brigadier general’s star. Though he knew he would be in the rear headquarters, Rómulo dressed as if he was going to the combat zone. He had a pair of leggings and his revolver hang on a shoulder holster like an FBI agent instead of on a belt holster required by military regulations. Rómulo was trying hard to project himself as a real soldier.

But Rómulo’s KSP attitude, of course, is another story. Today, the Leyte Landing is immortalized by the MacArthur Landing Memorial National Park at Red Beach, on the same site where MacArthur and his party landed. Which now leads me to a recent heritage crime: the unceremonious removal of the Simón de Anda Monument from Bonifacio Drive in Manila to make way for a much larger highway to ease traffic. On deciding of removing the monument, DPWH-National Capital Region head Reynaldo Tagudando said that the de Anda Monument has “no historical value”. Tagudando thus revealed his complete ignorance of who Simón de Anda y Salazar was.

De Anda was an oidor or member judge of the Audiencia Real (Spain’s appellate court in its colonies/overseas provinces) when the British, on account of the Seven Years’ War, invaded Filipinas in 1762. While many high-ranking government officials, including then interim governor general and Archbishop Manuel Rojo del Río, already surrendered to the invaders, de Anda and his followers refused to do so. Instead, he established a new Spanish base in Bacolor, Pampanga and from there launched the country’s first ever guerrilla resistance against the British. He thus proved to be a big thorn on the side of the British until the latter left two years later.

During those tumultuous two years under the British, de Anda made no promises and neither did he leave Filipinas. He stuck it out with Filipinos through thick and thin and gave the enemy an armed resistance that they more than deserved. But “Dugout Doug” was all drama when he said “I shall return”, leaving the Filipinos to fend for themselves against the Japs. And when he did return, it was a disaster: the death of Intramuros, the heart and soul of the country.

If there was anything good that came out from last year’s destructive Typhoon Yolanda, it was the damage done to that memorial park at Red Beach. When it comes to WWII commemorations, even the forces of nature know which monument has no historical value.

Podcasting with Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera

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For “episode 3″ of my podcasting venture with Arnaldo Arnáiz (his idea, actually), we featured our friend and mentor, the veritable and venerable Filipino scholar, Señor Guillermo Gómez y Rivera. On this episode, we talked about the importance of the Spanish language in Filipinas.

The sound quality for episodes 1 and 2 were poor. But for episode 3, there was significant improvement, thanks to Arnaldo’s new recording gadgets. The only thing here which didn’t improve was my voice. :D

Without further ado, here’s our September 20th podcast with the renaissance man himself, Señor Gómez (WARNING: Be prepared to be blown away with TONS of historical info).

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