Several months ago, Yeyette and I attended a birthday drinking session of a friend of hers in Tanauan, Batangas. And so I found it an opportunity to stroll around the oldest parts of the town, which is what I always do whenever I have the time to travel. It is because in the oldest parts of a Filipino town (the población, where the ubiquitous church, municipal hall, rustic town plaza, schoolhouse, and the old houses —the legendary bahay na bató— in the sector de mestizos are located) a Filipino can find and realize his identity as a nation, as a people.
Tanauan is one of those Batangueño towns/cities that are near Manila. It’s historical significance is mostly attributed to patriot Apolinario Mabini y Maranan and former President José Paciano Laurel y García, both of whom were natives of Tanauan.
Also, this is the hometown of Telésforo Carrasco’s wife, Dorotea Nazareth. Carrasco was a Spaniard in Emilio Aguinaldo’s army who fought against the US WASP invaders. He was also in action during the catastrophic Battle of Tirad Pass (in his journal, he mentioned in detail how General Gregorio del Pilar was shot and killed — in a not-so-heroic manner).
In Philippine Literature, Tanauan was the hometown of one of Rizal’s characters in El Filibusterismo: Plácido Penitente. The name, in fact, is an oxymoronic technique that was utilized by the national hero. The name means “calm penitent” in Spanish, in a way depicting the turmoils of the said character’s status quo in the novel. The stereotype Batangueño, however, is not known to be calm. He is a raging warrior when provoked, as shown in many Tagalog films of old.
According to the Diccionario Geográfico-Estadístico-Histórico de las Islas Filipinas (1851), the old town of Tanauan was originally established in 1581 along the banks of Taal Lake (then known onomatopoetically as Bonbón due to the sound whenever Taal Volcano explodes) together with the old town of Salá. The town as well as the church was then under the patronage of San Juan Bautista.
The ecclesiastical supervision of the city was accepted by the Augustinians on 5 May 1584, and Padre Antonio Roxas became the first parish priest (see my photo of the church’s historical marker below). During the final years of the 17th century, the town’s first church was completed. It was made of wood and stood along the banks of the lake. In the year 1732, the stone church was built. But due to the catastrophic explosion of Taal Volcano in 1754, the communities of both Tanauan and Salá were totally destroyed. The surviving Tanaueños moved to a place called Bañadero which later on became one of Tanauan’s barrios (barangáy). Salá, on the other hand, moved to its current site: Barrio Salá which is also in present-day Tanauan (like Bañadero, Salá became a mere barrio as well). After the explosion, the church was rebuilt by Padre José Díaz in 1881.
It is interesting to note here that the aforementioned Spanish soldier, Carrasco, had an unfriendly encounter with Fr. Díaz. It is because Carrasco eloped with Dorotea. And as a consequence of this illicit love affair (unlike today, elopement was highly scandalous during the Spanish times), Fr. Díaz didn’t have nice words to say about the matter. He even accused Carrasco of kidnapping! Since then, an irate Carrasco nicknamed him Muy Reverendo Cura del Demonio Padre José Díaz!
During World War II, the church was damaged again. It was rehabilitated by architect José Mª Zaragoza under the supervision of Monsignor Godofredo Mariño in 1948. The present features of the church (particularly the interior) was the result of a renovation made during the late 1960s that was spearheaded by Fr. Leonardo Villa. The façade remains as the only original part from the church’s Spanish-era architecture. Today, the church is now known as the Church of Saint John the Evangelist (San Juan Evangelista).
The Diccionario Geográfico-Estadístico-Histórico de las Islas Filipinas describes the parish church as made up of stone but whose roof was composed of bamboo materials (this was when Tanauan was transferred from its original site after the volcanic eruption). The church had a regular priest and is under the patronage of St. John the Baptist/Evangelist. There was an elementary school for boys and one for girls. The cemetery was outside the village, well situated and ventilated (this we didn’t visit anymore). The townsfolk were able to communicate well with those from nearby Lipâ and Santo Tomás due to well-built roads (it should be noted that the Philippines back then was densely forested).
The land was elevated and had good plains where crops were planted. Cultivated lands produced wheat, rice, corn, cacao, coffee, indigo, pepper, cotton, abaca, and various fruits and vegetables. In mountainous areas were bred many kinds of hardwood from which were obtained materials for both furniture and construction purposes (as well as honey and wax!). Tanauan also had good pastures where cattle, horses, and pigs were bred. There was also even a sesame-oil-extraction industry. Others made beautiful fabrics created out of abaca and cotton. Still others produced indigo which gave out a permanent dye.
At the time of the said book’s publication (1851), the town had less than 14,000 people. According to the latest census, there are more or less 150,000 people in Tanauan today.
Today, little of what was written above can be seen in Tanauan. I’m not even sure if it still produces the same crops that it used to produce during the Spanish times. No longer a town, Tanauan now prides itself as a city. But in the Philippines, when one mentions the word city, what comes to mind are images of skyscrapers, fancy restaurants, intimidating highways, heavy traffic, and busy necktied and stockinged office people going to and from each glass- and concrete-covered, neon-lighted structure. Tanauan is far from it (yet), even if it has two Jollibee outlets already. And that is why to my mind, I refuse to consider it as a city as much in the same way that I refuse to consider other old Filipino towns-turned-cities as newly established urban centers (such as Calambâ). Of course, this is all but romanticism from someone who thinks he was born in the wrong century.
So even if it morphs into a new Ciudad de Macati or Ciudad de Quezon, Tanauan will still be the same old Hispanic town that I came to know from the books that I’ve read about its romantic past…
More Tanauan photos below!
TANAUAN, BATANGAS, a set on Flickr.