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The country’s “Science and Nature City”: a mixture of nature, faith, and history (Los Baños, La Laguna)

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If the beaches of Puerto Galera and Boracay are popular names during the scorching days of summer, Los Baños is king during the rainy days due to its soothing hot baths.

Thus the town’s name in Spanish; it is literally translated as “The Baths” in English.

The numerous hot springs located at the foot of Mount Maquiling usually comes to mind when the name Los Baños, a first-class urban municipality in Laguna southwest of Calambâ (or 63 kilometers southeast of Manila), pops up in conversations. Geothermally heated groundwater deep from the Earth’s crust produces these hot springs’s. It is said that Monte de Maquiling, which is actually a dormant volcano, will not explode anymore because the heat which is supposed to fuel its explosiveness is channeled through these hot springs that are now converted into popular resorts for short-time vacationers. Also, the sulfuric content of the waters are said to have healing properties for various ailments such as arthritis. And this was discovered by a friar.

Before the coming of the Spaniards, what is now known as Los Baños used to be known as Maynit, the Tagalog word for hot (that term is now spelled as maínit). Maynit was then a part of the ancient lakeside kingdom of Bay until 1589 when a Franciscan, Fray Pedro Bautista, discovered the place. Upon the discovery of the Maynit’s hot springs, he had them examined by fellow Franciscan, Fray Francisco de Gata, who was an expert in medicine. That is how they discovered the hot springs’ medicinal properties whereupon they established a hospital there for the natives (that hospital serviced the sick up to the last century).

Years later, San Pedro Bautista was martyred together with twenty-five other Christians in Japan. He was later declared as a saint. The people of Los Baños should take pride that it was founded by a saint.

Monte de Maquiling (Los Baños side).

Strangely, while the natural waters of Los Baños are hot —enough to boil an egg for about half an hour—, the five streams coursing through it (Dampalít, Saran, Pilì, Mulauin, and Maitím) are not.

Below are more photos of my visit to Los Baños’ town proper (población) two months ago (8/10/2010).

One can enter the town proper here...

...or here.

Railroad to Manila.

Bahay na bató.

Gallo lagunense.

Town plaza. At the right is the municipal hall.

Municipio.

All the names of Los Baños' barrios/barangáys are inscribed on this rock situated on the town plaza.

A colorful entrance to the Kainan sa Dalampasigan, a restaurant on top of the waters of Laguna de Bay. It is right behind the municipio.

Kainan Sa Dalampasigan (Dine by the lakeshore).

The ancient lake: Laguna de Bay.

A view of neighboring Calambâ, beyond those hills.

To the right is a part of Los Baños. Beyond is the town of Bay from where the name Laguna de Bay comes from.

Fronting the lake is a park and recreation area.

Morning exercise for the local police right beside the lake.

This park was named after the National Hero's big brother.

The municipal hall. The current town mayor is Anthony Genuino of the political group Bigkis Pinoy.

Railway going to Manila.

Los Baños Central School (elementary campus).

Los Baños Central School (high school campus).

Magtaním ay di birò, maghapóng nacáyucô...

The national road, southbound towards the rest of La Laguna's more rustic towns.

Aside from the town’s many hot springs resort, not to mention Mt. Maquiling, Los Baños was also known as the site of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, commonly known by its initials UPLB. The school is one of the University of the Philippines System’s six constituent universities. First known as the College of Agriculture in 1909, UPLB became a full-fledged university in 1972. It’s location is strategic and so conducive to learning: nestled at the very foot of Mt. Maquiling.

University of the Philippines Los Baños (entrance).

Speaking of Mt. Maquiling, tucked somewhere in the forests of the mountain is the The National Arts Center of the Philippines (NACP), a haven for young and aspiring artists. Indeed, the mythical splendor of Mt. Maquiling’s forests is also conducive to the spirit of learning and inspiration for these young artists. The NACP also houses the Philippine High School for for the Arts. The school provides scholarship for young gifted Filipinos whom it wishes to mould into great artists someday.

The National Arts Center of the Philippines.

Aside from the UPLB and the NACP, the picturesque town of Los Baños is also the site of the famed International Rice Research Institute, the Philippine Council For Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development, the eco-tourism site Pook ni María Makiling, the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, and various other institutions dedicated to nature, eco-tourism, and the environment. As such, this historic town was declared as the Philippines’ Science and Nature City under former President Joseph Estrada’s Proclamation No. 349 on 17 September 2000.

Paciano Rizal Shrine

“Él es mucho más fino y serio que yo; es más grande y más delgado, no es tan moreno, con una nariz fina, bella y aguda, pero tiene piernas curvadas.” —José Rizal’s description of his brother in a letter to Ferdinand Blumentritt—

Indeed, this town is even made more historic because this is where José Rizal’s brother Paciano breathed his last.

The mysterious Paciano Rizal (1851-1930) was the second of eleven in the Rizal/Mercado brood. He was a disciple of the controversial and martyred priest, Fr. José Burgos. It was from Paciano who Rizal imbibed much of the martyred priest’s nationalist/secularist ideals.

It was Paciano who, in a way, “recruited” his younger brother into joining Masonry by secretly sending the latter to Europe (without their parents’ knowledge!). Although not much has been written about Paciano’s association with The Craft, it should be carefully noted that Paciano worked with Fr. Burgos in the Comité de Reformadores, an organization which had many Masons in its roster (it should come as a surprise as to why Fr. Burgos, a Catholic priest, worked with such a committee at all). The said organization was also backed up by the liberal Governor-General Carlos María dela Torre, himself a high-ranking Mason.

It is therefore safe to conclude (as concluded by many other scholars) that Rizal’s early notions of liberal-mindedness was from his Cuya Paciano. Paciano was Rizal’s first “bridge” to the liberal tumult of 1872.

After Rizal’s execution, it was written that Paciano escaped to Cavite to join the rebellion against Spain. Many historians even wrote that he reached the rank of a general and saw action in Santa Cruz, La Laguna. Later, during the American invasion, he was captured somewhere in the province. Subsequently, after American subjugation, he lived a life of peace in his modest Los Baños enclave.

Paciano Rizal Shrine. This is where Paciano lived his last years. The house was designed by renowned architect Andrés de Luna, the son of painter Juan Luna.

This is where Paciano is buried. The remains of his sisters Trinidad and Josefa were also transferred here a few decades ago.

Descendants of Paciano Rizal.

Paciano's bedroom.

The Rizal family tree.

The house/shrine's floor plan. This house used to be a nipa hut.

A bust of Paciano.

Iglesia de Inmaculada Concepción

It is sad that this centuries-old church no longer bear its original features because it was bombed beyond recognition by the Americans’ careless and almost useless carpet bombing in the area during World War II. Although there were indeed Japanese soldiers that had to be annihilated, it was not really necessary to bomb churches. Such frenzy in bombing various churches in the country —from Intramuros to Antipolo to Los Baños— leads a critically thinking mind to suspect that there could have been (and must have been) a hidden agenda, and that the so-called “liberation” of the Philippines from the Japanese Imperial Army is only part of a veiled attempt (and a good excuse) to destroy the Filipino identity. Collateral damage, so to speak. But that’s for another blogpost.

The previous war also explains why only a few Filipino houses (bahay na bató) are left in Los Baños.

The church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception no longer carries the sterling qualities and architecture that is known of Filipino churches during the Spanish period. However, despite its small size and the apparent lack of expected Filipino architectural aesthetics, its modernity —most especially its interiors— still hold a distinctive flavor which could not be compared to churches found in other countries. It still is Filipino. Also, it has a “mini cupola” situated right above the retablo, something rarely seen in both old and modern churches.

Iglesia de Inmaculada Concepción.

Liceo de Los Baños stands right in front of the church and is actually within church vicinity.

Come, let us adore Him!

View of Laguna de Bay from up the church tower.

The steel steps towards the bell tower are so wide apart from each other. And it's a dizzying sight looking down. Good thing I didn't tag my daughter along.

A view of the town and Monte de Maquiling from the church tower.

Liceo de Los Baños and Laguna de Bay from up above the church tower.

Nope, these two bells aren't from the Spanish times.

Upon descending the church tower, I was able to see the old Spanish-era bells; they were right below the steel stairway, cobwebbed and all.

The words Nuestra Señora de Aguas Santa de Maynit are inscribed onto one of the bells. It refers to the Virgin who is the patroness of this town. Maynit was the old name of Los Baños. Maynit means hot, pertaining to the town's numerous hot springs. I could not make anything out of the year due to heavy rust.

The bells beneath the steel steps.

A list of the church's early donors solicited by Doña Sofía M. Villegas.

Although it was bombed during the last war and has been disfigured beyond original recognition, this church still stands proudly today.

Thankfully, Los Baños still has the rural flavor that many aficionados of things pastoral will surely love. It can be said that Los Baños is the divisoria of La Laguna’s urban and rural side: the towns north of it are fast beoming clones of Metro Manila; the towns to its south remain rustic. Los Baños features both. Truly, Los Baños is an odd mix of old and new, of faith and anti-faith, of religion and science, of arts and commercialism, of rural and urban. But above all, Los Baños’ propensity for being a haven of some of the country’s most diverse flora and fauna is one treasure that it has to protect, conserve, and respect not only for the sake of eco-tourism and nature itself but also for the sake of future Los Bañenses.

9 responses »

  1. I missed the bahay na bato when we went to Los Banos. We just visited the Paciano House and UPLB. We need to explore more.

    Reply
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  3. it hurt the eyes to see “Los Baños” written in Spanish, and then the two sideline plaques in English…
    This is a very serious contradiction of Filipinas presently. Most of the country´s town names were writen in Spanish, however the population does not know their meaning or even that they´re Spanish words.
    Many of the country´s heroes were native spanish speakers, however their rememberance plaques are written once again in English, it is a big dishonour to these men that fought so bravely for Filipinas and now their memories are written in the language of the genocidal power state that conquered Filipinas (USA) not the state that liberated the country. Filipinas is still a slave country of that genocidal power.

    Reply
  4. It is extremely interesting for me to read this post. Thanx for it. I like such topics and everything connected to this matter. I definitely want to read more on that site soon. BTW, pretty nice design you have at that blog, but what do you think about changing it from time to time?

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    Reply
  5. We should keep the tradition of Bahay Na Bato without that spanish garbage and be more like our neighbors in Asia.

    Reply
  6. Pingback: Bay, the lake’s padrino (Bay, La Laguna) « FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES

  7. The town of Los Banos is an amazingly dynamic vibrant and unforgettable place because of its cultural experiences and natural landscapes , , , wherein you could find the natural beauty of nature.
    The many natural wonders of Los Banos also includes, Crocodile Lake, Dampalit Falls, Botanical Garden while Agua Santa, Baker Hall, Magnetic Hill and Yamashita Shrine is known to be a historical place during World War II.
    I’m thankful that it was declared as the Philippines’ Science & Nature City and being featured here for it serves as a drama of a family reunion or experience timeless places right before your very ages.

    Reply

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