Calambâ is a lovely town in Laguna province, Luzón, the largest of the Philippines’ seven thousand islands. A crystalline river flows through the town while the hills gracefully curve against the blue sky. From these hills and from the modern highway that now runs through the town, one can see Laguna de Bay softly lapping its shores.
The traveler who passes here may pause to admire the scenic beauty of palm-covered mountains, fields green with young rice stalks, and the lake’s sparkling water.
A century ago, Calambâ must have been even more beautiful, although not equipped with modern conveniences. There were neither motorcars to raise the dust off the highways nor electric lights to disturb the tranquility of its rustic streets. It had about three or four thousand inhabitants, a tribunal, a church, a convent, a few well-constructed houses, and the so-called Casa Hacienda of the Dominicans. This was the town where Rizal was born on June 19, 1861. –Asunción López-Rizal Bantug (Indio Bravo: The Story of Rizal)–
Calambâ was a very pastoral town many years ago. I can still remember how much of it looked like whenever we pass by the place during summer vacation trips to Unisan: vast farmlands, crystal clear rivers, a vista of the picturesque mountain of Maquiling, majestic pine trees along the tollway, endless green, and the sweet smell of green and earth!
But during the years surrounding the town’s incorporation into a city on 21 April 2001, very much has changed. Gone were the vast agricultural lands, emerging industrial centers produced much pollution, the remaining pine trees along the now traffic-stricken tollway are dying, the rivers decayed, shanties here and there, envelope-wielding Badjáo beggars everywhere, prostitutes in hot springs resorts, residential subdivisions around and along the slopes of Monte de Maquiling, etc. So, this cityhood is for who’s betterment?
Oh well, “progress” will always be “progress”.
Today, Calambâ is the most populous town —or rather city— in the province of La Laguna (yes, La Laguna, and not just Laguna). And because of the place’s current economic condition, it is now considered as a first class city (this means that the town’s average annual income is 400 million pesos or more — not bad). Calambâ is perhaps the most well-known place in La Laguna mainly because it is the birthplace of the country’s national hero. Other than that, it is also the site of many hot springs resorts (like its neighbor, Los Baños) as well as the popular Canlubang Golf and Country Club in Barrio Canlubang, the biggest among Calambâ’s 54 barrios or barangáys (occupying almost a third of the city!).
According to a popular legend, the name Calambâ was derived from —again— a miscommunication between Spaniards and natives. Two guardias civiles lost their way into a nameless settlement where now stands the old town of Calambâ. They encountered a lady carrying a clay pot (bañgâ) and a wooden stove (calán). The soldiers asked the lady for the name of the place. Unwittingly, they used the Spanish language, a tongue unfamiliar to the poor lady. Thinking that the soldiers were asking what her items were called, she nervously gave their names: calán at bañgâ. The Spaniards, unable to pronounce Tagalog correctly, assumed that the place they bumped into was called “Calamba”. This legend is now immortalized with a huge clay pot in Calambâ’s plaza, just across the Church of Saint John the Baptist where Rizal was baptized. The clay pot or bañgâ is said to be the largest in the world.
For a significant point in history, Calambâ used to be a part of Tabuco. On 28 August 1742, it became a full-fledged pueblo or town. Cityhood finally followed nine years ago.
I lost count on the number of times I’ve visited the Rizal home in Calambâ, La Laguna. Actually, the house is just a replica of the original that was burnt down during the last world war. The replica was designed by renowned architect Juan F. Nákpil (the only son of the musical-revolutionist Julio Nákpil) using an old photograph of the house as well as oral descriptions from the Rizal family and some neighbors.
So much has already been written about the Rizal Shrine in Calambâ. So I might as well just give you a pictorial tour of our visit last 19 June 2010, on the occasion of Pepe Rizal’s 149th birth anniversary.
Rafaél Palma (1874-1939), the politician, journalist, and Mason who became the first Filipino president of the University of the Philippines, wrote a prize-winning biography about Rizal written in the Spanish language entitled Biografía de Rizal (Manila: Bureau of Printing, 1949). In the said book’s first chapter, Palma made a detailed description of the Rizal house. I translate it here:
The magnificent two-storey house was high and was of solid and massive construction. The upper floor was made up entirely of wood except for the roof which was made of red tile in accordance with the architectural style of such houses found in Manila. Cápiz shells adorn the sliding windows. As defense against earthquakes, the first floor was made up of thick walls of lime and stone. Francisco Mercado (Rizal’s dad), supervising the construction himself, chose only the most durable wood from a nearby forest. It took two years to build the house. Behind the house was a terrace roof (azotea) and a wide and deep well which used to gather rainwater for household purposes.
Rizal never went beyond the third degree of Masonry (Master Mason). For some reason, while in Spain, he had a falling out with some high-ranking members of the craft (Marcelo H. del Pilar and, more specifically, Pedro Serrano). He spent his last years in the Philippines (Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte) as an inactive Mason, and this he vehemently upheld during his trial in late 1896. And on his final night on earth, he signed a retraction paper and peacefully went back to the Catholic fold — a fact that is supported by an (as collected and recounted in Fr. Jesús Mª Cavanna’s Rizal’s Unfading Glory). But Masons in the Philippines are stubborn — they still refuse to believe that the world is round. So every Rizal anniversary, they still honor my tocayo as their exemplary brother. I may cry.
Iglesia de San Juan Bautista
Rizal was baptized in this church three days after he was born. As a matter of fact, the baptismal cistern which was used to baptize him is still preserved despite the tragedy which befell the church and the town (Calambâ was razed to the ground during World War II where around 2,000 people were killed). Unfortunately, when me and my kids visited the church after our tour of the Rizal Shrine, it was closed tightly shut (perhaps to avoid the noise coming from the Masons across the road?). Of course, this won’t be our last visit. Besides, we will be certified Calambeños by next year, when all plans fall into place.
The General’s staircase
Aside from Rizal, Calambâ has another hero: Brigadier General Vicente Lim (1889–1944). He was the highest-ranking Filipino soldier under General Douglas MacArthur during World War II. Lim was a survivor of the infamous Bataán Death March. He led many secret guerrilla activities against the Japanese. He was later caught and beheaded by the enemy. But check out the photos below of how his “house” was treated by the government.
And these officials had the nerve to put up a historical marker instead of having saved the house from being destroyed (by a typhoon, says an oldtimer who I interviewed the day I took the photos). What is that — adding insult to injury?!
May tauag dian sa Tagalog, eh: cagaguhan. Abá, mabuti pá ang inútil nating policía, may budget. Tapos para sa herencia natin, ualâ. And this will become the fate of most of what is left of our country’s casas solariegas once apathy continues to hang onto our backs like monkeys.
No matter how much Calambâ has changed over the years, it will always remain the “town” that I came to know of in history books.