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Category Archives: Bahay Na Bató

Walk Back in History: The San Nicolás-Binondo Heritage Tour

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Walk Back in History: The San Nicolás-Binondo Heritage Tour is a historical and architectural walk on the world’ s oldest chinatown. Walk the streets of historical San Nicolás and cosmopolitan Binondo. Explore their history and the evolution of their architecture. Learn the historical, social, political, and economic factors that gave rise to the unique architecture of the area. Apart from learning history and architecture, learn also another Philippine devotion to the black Christ, the Santo Cristo de Loñgos
—Mª Cecilia Sunico—

This unique tour, probably a first of its kind to be conducted in the ancient arrabales of Binondo and San Nicolás, will be launched on May 3rd, a Sunday. The tour begins at exactly 8:00 AM in front of Binondo Church. Make sure to wear casual summer attire and sandals or sneakers as this tour will require plenty of walking. The tour will be facilitated by my friend Cecille Sunico, a well-known heritage activist in Manila who is also a descendant of the famous Hilario Sunico; chances are, the bells ringing from your población‘s old church belltower were cast from Sunico’s San Nicolás foundry (see photo above)

The fee is only ₱500 per person (exclusive of meals). Click here to join!

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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). 😀

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!

Let us all save the Alberto House of Biñán

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PRES. BENIGNO AQUINO III: Save the historic Alberto Mansion in Biñán, La Laguna.
Dr. Bimbo Santa María

The house is almost 200 years old. It was built by Lorenzo Alberto Alonso, father of Teodora Alonso and grandfather of Dr. José Rizal. The house was in almost perfect shape until the current owner, a descendant of Alberto Alonso, sold it to a resort owner in Bagac, Bataán. The local government opposed it and did not grant the dismantling permit. However, in May of 2010, the house was dismantled from the inside.

A campaign to save the house was launched spearheaded by local heritage advocates called the United Artists for Cultural Conservation and Development (UACCD). With the help of the print and broadcast media together with netizens, the issue gained public interest.

A new law on heritage conservation was approved by then President Gloria Arroyo on March 2010 stating that structures 50 years and above have to be conserved if it has cultural importance. The National Historical Institute (now National Historical Commission of the Philippines or NHCP) was ready to put a marker in the house recognizing it as historical since the 90s but was refused by the owner. Since then, and in spite of the public clamor to save the house, the NHCP till the present has reiterated it was never declared as an important cultural property, at the same time saying that they do not have the funds to save the house.

The house is the only remaining original structure on site in relation to Dr. Rizal. The Rizal Shrine in Calambâ is only a replica built from its foundation and floor initiated by then Pres. Elpidio Quirino through funds coming from donations of schoolchildren in the 1950s.

Many would say that it is not that important since it is “just” the house of Rizal’s mother. Not realizing that without Teodora Alonso, there would be no Pepe Rizal. Teodora was Rizal’s first teacher and was the one who moulded his character of love of country. The house is the living soul that reminds us of the memory of this great woman and her contribution to Philippine history.

The destruction of this house is man-made. They took away the ceiling, the floor, and even dug the foundations, leaving only the shell of the house. A part of the roof caved in last week. A call for help ran in the internet for the government to immediately intervene before the whole house collapses, but it fell into deaf ears. On 22 October 2012, 75% of the roof went down along with a big part of the façade.

But the house can still be saved. It took one president in the past to rebuild the Rizal Shrine in Calamba. Now, we call on our president to step in and help save and reconstruct this irreplaceable part of our history in Biñán. A fitting honor for a mother of a national hero.

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION BY CLICKING HERE!

Tanza Fiesta 2011 (Tanza, Cavite)

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When me, my wife Yeyette, and daughter Krystal visited Ternate last August 21, we passed by several Caviteño towns and cities. At the Antero Soriano Highway which coursed through Tanza, we noticed banners announcing that a week later, August 28, the town will celebrate the feast day of its blessed guardian, Saint Augustine. Me and my wife decided to attend the festivities.

A couple of days after our Tanza visit, I posted pictures of the event in Facebook. The photos (some are shown in this blogpost) showcase an array of handsome Philippine ancestral houses. I shared the album to a friend of mine who is a native of Tanza. Upon seeing the photos, she commented that she once read in a history book by the late historian Isagani Medina that Tanza was the only Caviteño town which sided with Spain during the tumultuous years of the Katipunan rebellion.

My first reaction upon reading her comment was that of concern. I have not read that book she was referring to, and I don’t mean to judge books that I haven’t even read yet. But based on her comments on my Facebook photos, I’m inclined to ask: was that book trying to point out that the reason for being of Tanza’s bahay na bató homes was the result of the town’s fealty to Spain during the tumult of the late 1890s? If so, then that information is misleading for I noticed that many ancestral houses in Tanza, although handsome and charming, appear not to have been built during the Spanish times. One perfect example is Casa Tahimic, one of Tanza’s oldest houses built in 1927 (see below).

But I hope that my hunch is just a hunch.

The fact is that Tanza was not the only town which sided with Spain. Many, if not all, local governments condemned the Katipunan for the single reason that their cause —no matter how honestly noble they thought it was— was nothing more but an infraction. To wit: the Katipunan was an underground movement perpetuated by conspirators who were mostly anti-friar. Local governments did not exactly put their cards in favor of this Tagalog underground movement. Rather, the movement was engineered, fueled, and powered by individual dissidents who had no powerful connection at all to each municipio/ayuntamiento around the Philippines, particularly the Tagalog region (there were a few exceptions, of course, such as the case of Emilio Aguinaldo: he was a gobernadorcillo when he joined Freemasonry and the Katipunan). That is why the Katipunan resorted to blackmail, destroying the reputation of many a rich individual who refused to support their secessionist cause.

Indeed, many factors should be taken into consideration when studying (and reassessing) the sad, sad case that is Philippine History.

Tejero Bridge connects the towns of Tanza and Rosario. Tejero was the former name of Rosario.

Iglesia de la Santa Cruz de Malabón

Like most towns in the Philippines, Tanza was very much attached to the history of its town church. Perhaps unknown to many today, a parish is not just a church: it is a territorial unit historically under the pastoral care of a parish priest. At the onset of Philippine History (or at the start of our nation’s founding on 24 June 1571), all towns started out as a parish. That is why at the heart of every old town or población, it is not unusual to find a church there, along with a plaza fronting it as well as several bahay na bató scattered around the area.

Iglesia de la Santa Cruz de Malabón.

Researching about Tanza later on, I learned that this little town used to be a barrio of San Francisco de Malabón, now known as General Trías. In fact, during its barrio days, Tanza was known as Santa Cruz de Malabón. People called it sometimes as Malabón el Chico to differentiate it from Malabón el Grande that was the población of San Francisco de Malabón (el Grande).

Tanza became an organized community in 1752. In 1760, the friars built a big residence and granary in the area. The place was eventually called Estancia (a ranch or a place for vacation). It was only seven years later when Estancia became known as Santa Cruz de Malabón. It became a full-fledged parish on 29 August 1780, just a day short after Saint Augustine’s feast day. That is why he was taken as the town’s patron saint. Today, the people fondly calls him by a Filipinized nickname: Tata Usteng.

The term Malabón was derived from either the old Tagalog words “labong” (bamboo shoot) or “mayabong“. It was said that in the early days, bamboo shoots were abundant in the area (I assume that was also the case for Ciudad de Malabón in Metro Manila). The Spanish words santa cruz (holy cross) were attached to Malabón as a testament to the people’s devotion to the sacred image of the Santa Cruz, a wooden cross said to be miraculous. The image is now on display inside the town church.

The miraculous Holy Cross of Malabón.

It is quite sad when in 1914, the name Santa Cruz de Malabón was changed and shortened to just Tanza. According to popular belief, Tanza was a corruption/mispronunciation of the word santa. The culprit of this unnecessary name change was a congressman of the American-sponsored Philippine Assembly: Florentino Joya, a lawyer from the said town. How this guy disrespected his hometown’s history I just could not fathom.

Speaking of history, Santa Cruz de Malabón’s place in Philippine History was a major one: it was here where officials of the Revolutionary Government elected in the Tejeros Convention took their oaths of office. This took place inside the convent of the Santa Cruz de Malabón Church on 23 March 1897. This event served as the prototype of the first República Filipina that was disrespected by the US WASPs later on.

A curious scene during this oath taking was the participation of a priest, Fr. Cenón Villafranca, who was said to be still under the authority of the Vatican (I’m just not sure if he was a Spanish friar or a member of the native clergy). On that same date, Fr. Villafranca administered the oath of office to Aguinaldo and other officials (elected during the Tejeros Convention), calling on “God to witness the solemn moment”. He was later denounced by Aguinaldo’s rival, Andrés Bonifacio, for having joined the Magdalo faction of the Katipunan.

On 23 March 1897, inside this convent adjunct to the church, Emilio Aguinaldo was sworn in as the first President of the Philippines. Mariano Trías was his Vice-President.

Casa Tahimic / Calle Real Restaurant

Along Calle Santa Cruz, where many ancestral homes can be found, there was this one house that grabbed our attention.

Calle Real Restaurant at the first floor of Casa Tahimic.

The house became doubly interesting when we noticed that it also serves as a restaurant. Whenever me and my wife visit old towns, we content ourselves to just taking photographs of ancestral houses. We seldom go inside for fear of disturbing the peace of its residents. But this house has a different allure and mystique to it. And since Yeyette is a food connoisseur, we both decided that this is one place that we should not miss.

So after taking pictures of other ancestral homes along that street and after attending mass at the church, we went back to Calle Real —the name of that house-turned-restaurant— for lunch. We were met by Mr. Michael Tahimic, brother of the owner of Calle Real (his sister, actually).

We were invited for lunch by Mr. Michael Tahimic, the grandson of the original owner of the house (the late Marcelo Tahimic, Sr.).

Due to the festivities, Mr. Tahimic told us that the restaurant was closed that day. Instead, he accepted us not as customers but as guests…

Because, yes, food was served inside the restaurant to celebrate the feast day of Tata Usteng!

Calle Real Restaurant is located on the ground floor of the eighty-four-year-old Tahimic ancestral house (where entresuelos are usually found). The restaurant started out in 1998. According to an article written by food expert Victoria Reyes-Ferrer for FOOD MAGAZINE (July 2003), Mildred (or Millie, Michael’s sister), and her husband Noel Lozada gave birth to this exotic-looking restaurant.

He designed and tested the menu; she dressed up the place. He takes charge of running the restaurant; she takes care of the ambiance… While Noel worked on the menu, Millie indulged in her love for interior decorating. She wanted an ambiance that suited the age and style of her ancestral home. Thus they filled the restaurant with antique and semi-antique collections from upstairs, they put on their collection of old records, hats, and old things.

The turn-of-the-century mood and ambiance of Calle Real complements the delectable Filipino dishes served here. At Calle Real, the clock seems to turn counterclockwise with every bite.

Yeyette astounded by the interior decors (and preserved critters: butterflies, beetles, and scorpions from Palawan).

Reyes-Ferrer's magazine article on Casa Tahimic/Calle Real Restaurant

Casa Tahimic was also featured in the coffee table book Sulyáp sa Lumipas: Mga Tahanang Ancestral sa Cavite written by Emmanuel Franco Calairo.

Reyes-Ferrer mentioned that the Lozada couple used antique stuff from the house’s second floor for their unique restaurant’s design on the ground floor. But not all were spirited away for business use. Just take a look at all the marvelous treasures found inside the house proper…

Going up! So excited!

Posing in front of an antique mirror.

With Mr. Tahimic.

This house used to be a duplex because there was a wall that divided the interior of this house. The other half was owned by Michael's grandfather, Marcelo Tahimic, Sr. The other half was for Marcelo's brother Cayetano Tahimic. Years later, the wall was taken down by the younger generation.

From the outside, it can be seen that this house indeed used to be a duplex.

Genuine antiques fill the house!

Familia Tahimic.

Portrait of Sofía de Guzmán de Tahimic and Marcelo Tahimic, Sr. Below it is the name of their son, Atty. Marcelo Tahimic, Jr., inscribed in marble.

The initials of Marcelo Tahimic inscribed artistically on this wood design near the ceiling.

The initials of Marcelo's brother, Cayetano Tahimic.

Left to right: Noel Lozada and wife Mildred Tahimic de Lozada, Michael (Mildred's brother), and me. The Lozada couple manages Calle Real Restaurant which is just underneath us.

FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES would like to salute La Familia Tahimic for conserving their ancestral home. They did no harm to their ancestral home’s look even though they made use of its ground floor for business. And even the ambience of their business complements the Filipino feel not only of their house but also of their community. Because of extreme care rendered to their ancestral home, Casa Tahimic now serves as one of the bridges to our nation’s past in general and to Tanza’s history in particular. No doubt, the Tahimic Family of Tanza are heritage heroes. The love, care, and pride that they have manifested towards their very own bahay na bató, the true home of the Filipino family, should be emulated by those who still have that kind of house as their property.

Calle Real Restaurant is located at #8 Calle Santa Cruz, Población, Tanza, Cavite. To avail of their catering services (only ₱10,750 per head!), please contact them at (046)505-2836. Click here for their Facebook fanpage.

Please click here for more of our Tanza fiesta walkathon!

🙂

Visiting our Lady of Assumption and del Pilar’s turf (Bulacán, Bulacán)

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Every August, the town of Bulacán commemorates two very important events: the feast day of its patron, Nuestra Señora de la Asunción on the 15th (which is today!), and; the birth anniversary of the anti-friar Propagandista Movement, Marcelo H. del Pilar. Stark contrast: two events with contrasting ideologies commemorated on the same month.

A handsome ancestral house along Calle Real.

Monument of General Gregorio del Pilar. Not many Filipinos know that Goyo was a nephew of Marcelo H. del Pilar.

Cupang Bridge. Cupang was the small barrio where Marcelo del Pilar was born. It is now a part of Barrio Maysantol.

Walking along Calle Real towards the Marcelo H. del Pilar Shrine.

When me and Yeyette visited the town of Bulacán a few weeks back (07/25/2011), we had Lola Bening in mind. It was to fulfill a promise that we will visit her grandfather’s shrine soon. Unfortunately, when we got there, we found out that the Marcelo H. del Pilar shrine is closed on Mondays (just like when we visited the Apolinario Mabini Shrine. Guess we’ll have to visit again.

In front of the Marcelo H. del Pilar Shrine. Unfortunately, the shrine is closed.

The municipality of Bulacán —sharing the name of the Tagalog-speaking province where it is located— is one of the provincial towns that is very near Metro Manila. It can be reached, in fact, in just an hour from the City of Manila via the Municipality of Obando — but only if traffic is cooperative. When we went there, however, we rode a bus that passed through world-class North Luzón Expressway since we’re not accustomed to trips north of Manila (the Southerners that we are). We dropped off at Bigaá (now Balagtás) then rode a jeepney going straight to Bulacán.

According to sources, the town’s name was derived from the Tagalog word bulac which means “cotton” which apparently used to grow abundantly in the area. But Bulacán today does not cultivate cotton; farming, fishing, garments, and food processing are its major industries today. What I am still unsure of is whether this town was named after the province, or if the province was named after the town. But surely, Bulacán is one of the country’s oldest; it was founded by the Augustinian Order in 1572, just a year after the country was founded by the Spaniards. In fact, its church, Nuestra Señora De La Asunción, is the province’s oldest. But the stone structure and convent was built in 1762, the same year when the British invaded Manila. From there, the invaders went to as far as Bulacán and burned the church. Fray Gaspar Folgar had the church repaired in 1812. But it was damaged again by the deadly Corpus Christi earthquake of 1863. Another earthquake in 1869 tilted the belfry, but Fray Marcos Hernández renovated it in 1877. Restoration work was done by Fray Patricio Martín in 1885; it was completed by Fray Domingo de la Prieta in 1889.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. Notice that the whole façade is standing on a plinth.

The upper part of the square pillars are designed with bricks in chevron pattern.

A slight renovation to strengthen the structure. The church is well taken cared of. Kudos!

The church's original flooring, exposed via an excavation, can be viewed on the right side of the church's main entrance.

The church's original floor, excavated but protected by glass.

The image of Our Lady of Assumption (Nuestra Señora de la Asunción).

My wife has become freakish for ancient bricks (the red-colored ones slightly covered by a modern finish).

Yeyette beside an old Santíssima Trinidad wooden cross at the church's garden.

Romanesque design of corbeled arches underneath the raking cornice. The upper part of the square pillar is designed

Bulaqueño goodies!

Afterwards, it’s lunchtime at Sizzling World!

People say that Sizzling World is quite popular here.

Some celebrities who have visited Sizzling World (this outlet and in other branches).

True, the food is good!

After lunch, we immediately resumed our walkathon.

The church's bell tower at the background.

Mag pan de sal muna tayo.

Casa Delgado

After our lunch and some pan de sal, we walked a few more streets to look for more ancestral houses. Thankfully, we chanced upon this beautiful architectural gem…

Yeyette inquiring about the unoccupied house from bystanders.

It was obvious from the outside that the house is already abandoned. But we had to make sure. Yeyette asked around for confirmation. The house actually was “semi-abandoned”. Nobody lives there anymore but it is still owned by one Jack Rodrigo who just lives a few paces from the house. After receiving directions, we set for his house.

He’s a gentleman who appears to be in his late 40s. Yeyette introduced ourselves and told him that we’re bahay na bató aficionados, and that we just want to take photos of the house’s interiors. The kind sir, however, prohibited us from going inside the house due to “paranormal” reasons.

In the past, Mr. Rodrigo said that he allowed his ancestral house to be photographed from within. Some movie companies have also rented it. In fact, scenes from the classic Pancho Magalona film Luis Látigo were shot inside that house. However, he started receiving reports that people who go inside the house to take pictures and film movies have noticed strange things happening to them. Bad luck and other unfortunate incidents followed them home. Some of them got sick. The more unfortunate ones were even possessed (assumedly by evil spirits).

It sent shivers up my wife’s spine; I took it all in stride. But when Mr. Rodrigo mentioned that he reported these strange occurences to the local priest, I have to admit that it got into me somehow. If the Church is involved, then this has got to be serious and not just mere “tacután” talk from people who are fans of urban legends and creepy stories. Mr. Rodrigo himself has not gone inside that house —the very house where he grew up— since his college years.

He said that the house had been blessed once or twice, but nothing happened. The hauntings continued, especially when the house is disturbed by tourists. I asked Mr. Rodrigo for the name of the house (Filipino houses usually bear the last name of the family who owns it). The name is Casa Delgado, the family on his mother’s side.

The name Delgado rang a bell. I asked him if it was the home of Francisco Delgado, and he confirmed it.

“Yes, it is the ancestral house of former Senator Francisco Delgado, my great grandfather. The house was built in 1886. Senator Delgado was also a cousin of former Philippine Ambassador to the Vatican,” informed Mr. Rodrigo.

Senator? Cousin? Something was wrong….

“I’m also related to another senator…”

“Yes, I think I know,” I butted in, remembering his surname. “Senator Francisco ‘Soc’ Rodrigo.” Wifey was impressed. She then proceeded to tell Mr. Rodrigo that I’m a historian. I should have corrected her: I’m no historian, just a history buff. I got no PhDs or MAs.

In the end, Mr. Rodrigo allowed us to go through the gate to take pictures of his great grandfather’s ancestral house.

An old carroza for the santos.

1886, the year when this house was built.

Since we were not allowed to go inside, I just took a photo of the interiors from the window beside the main entrance. My camera caught nothing eerie.

The grass around the house was very high, and snakes abound. The place is impassable without the proper tools to ward of the grass and the snakes.

Talk about creepy...

A stone post above Casa Delgado's ancient walls.

*******

On our way home, I kept on thinking about that conversation we had with Mr. Rodrigo. There was something amiss. Francisco Delgado? Senator?

I did some research online and in my library. And then it hit me.

The Delgado I had in mind was not Francisco Delgado, after all. It was José Mª Delgado. I got both persons all mixed-up in my mind. Francisco Delgado y Afán was a Resident Commissioner 2 to the 74th United States Congress during the American Occupation of the Philippines from 1935 to 1937. He was a Freemason. On the other hand, his cousin, José Mª Delgado, was a soldier of God: he was the first Filipino to be appointed ambassador to the Vatican. The Freemason senator is from Bulacán town; the Christian cousin is from Malolos.

Cousins with different ideologies: one Freemason, the other, Christian. Another stark contrast.

Is the late senator’s affiliation with Freemasonry the reason why his house remains uninviting and unsafe to mortals?

*******

The people we talked with were hospitable, and even invited us back for the town fiesta. To bad we couldn’t be there today. Anyways, happy fiesta, Bulacán!

A quick stop in Tanauan (Tanauan, Batangas)

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Just one of many beautifully maintained Filipino houses (also known as the bahay na bató) found in Tanauan's población

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.

Me, wifey, birthday boy Oliver (sporting a mohawk) and friends (09/26/2010).

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.

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Former President José Paciano Laurel's ancestral house (with its unfriendly dog launching an attack).

Mabini monument.

Apolinario Mabini's monument located at the plaza fronting the city hall. Notice that in this monument, he is not paralyzed.

Wifey Yeyette posing outside the Mabini Shrine. We didn't make it on time (the shrine is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

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.

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Pine trees!

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Wifey with Tanaueño kids.

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City Hall.

City Hall.

Batangueño thrashers.

Batangueño thrashers!

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Governor Modesto Castillo Memorial Cultural Center. Still under construction when I took this photo last September. But already looking prim.

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.

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Iglesia de San Juan Evangelista. The façade is a combination of Romanesque and High Renaissance architectural styles.

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 old church's historical marker.

Mass was ongoing.

Mass was ongoing. It was a Sunday when we visited Tanauan.

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Instead of the usual retablo, the altar had stained glasses for a background. Cool.

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Heavily renovated interiors. Only the façade retained its original look.

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. 😦

Ciudad de Tanauan, Batangas

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…

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More Tanauan photos below!

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DSC09512DSC09513DSC09514DSC09515DSC09516Iglesia de San Juan Evangelista (09/26/2010)

TANAUAN, BATANGAS, a set on Flickr.

150th birth anniversary of José Rizal: but no Spanish is so unRizal

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Para leer en el destino de los pueblos, es menester abrir el libro de su pasado. —José Rizal—

Krystal at the Rizal Shrine in Ciudad de Calambâ (taken just this morning).

Today, modern Philippine history is making history by celebrating history.

Our nation’s polymath national hero, Dr. José Protacio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realondo, turns 150 years today, the sesquicentennial anniversary of his birth. The whole archipelago, Filipino communities abroad, and all places of historical significance to Rizal are commemorating his natal day with lavish parties, parades, quiz bees, art and writing contests, and discombobulating speeches from politicians (happy is the “public servant”, indeed, who has been given the chance to grandstand on this very special occasion). There are even rock concerts and “special” appearances of TV personalities to boot.

It is indeed a national event (and international as well since overseas Filipino communities are also celebrating), an event that is reminiscent of the centennial celebration of our country’s “independence” 13 years ago.

During the previous years, I try to make it a point to attend Rizal’s natal day celebration in his hometown of Calambâ, La Laguna. Over the years, I find nothing new, except for the annual themes that nobody cares to enshrine into himself, primarily because they’re either in a foreign language (English) or they’re too over-the-top for an ordinary baker/bus driver/factory worker/saleswoman/mason/office clerk/service crew/etc. to comprehend. This year’s theme is Rizal: Haligi ng Bayan (Rizal: el Pilar de la Nación).

But what I do realize is that the Filipinos are made to appreciate him more and more. The “Love and Idolize Rizal” campaign has been brought outside the classroom is now out in the field, especially in this era of social networking in the internet. Filipinos are now encouraged to travel to places where Rizal had trod. This “appreciation campaign”, however, is focused more on Rizal’s life and loves and travels. Whatever energy that is left to make us appreciate his works is de-emphasized especially since his literary masterpieces are mere translations.

Who reads Rizal?

And that is what I want to rant about on this special day. How come that, in spite of a year-long preparation for his 150th birthday, the Spanish language —the language closest to Rizal’s heart and soul, the language of his mind— is again left out? How will the Filipinos ever have a full and genuine appreciation of his literary masterpieces —all written in Spanish— if they are made to read English and Tagalog translations?

And speaking of literature, there is yet another crisis: who reads Rizal’s work nowadays? And when I say read I mean to say reading for the sake of reading, i.e., enjoyment and pleasure.

On writing about Rizal’s famous novels, National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquín wove it perfectly more than anyone could:

Rizal’s books have been so beatified, so canonized, so enshrined, that they have almost ceased to belong to literature.

Whatever the motives of a writer to produce a work of literary art —be it religious, political, emotional, nationalistic, or just for the heck of it—, the reader’s enjoyment and/or mental gain will matter the most in the end. But in our case, the Filipino is being forced to read Rizal. A work of art, no matter what nationalistic bull it symbolizes, should never be enforced to be seen nor appreciated solely for the purpose of instilling nationalism. That is why this compulsory imposition of Rizal’s works further alienates the national hero from the average Juan de la Cruz.

Rizal law

In that, the late Senator Claro M. Recto had failed. A rabid nationalist and anti-WASP, he (together with Senator José P. Laurel) authored Republic Act No. 1425, more popularly known as the Rizal Law. This law is the reason why college students have Rizal’s Life and Works as a school subject. The opening lines of the law state:

WHEREAS, today, more than any other period of our history, there is a need for a re-dedication to the ideals of freedom and nationalism for which our heroes lived and died…

It should be noted that when this law was authored, the president back then was Ramón Magsaysay. He was well-loved by the masses but was notorious against Filipino nationalists such as Recto because the latter knew that the former had the full-backing of imperialist US (via CIA agent Edward Lansdale). Overwhelmed by imperialist enemies and alarmed by the seeming apathy of the Filipino masses, Recto thought it best to bring back Rizal’s nationalist endeavors to his milieu.

Unfortunately for the nationalist senator, he was barking up the wrong tree.

To begin with, Rizal’s novels were more anti-Catholic than anti-Spanish in nature (hardly nationalist), that is why he was met with opposition from the Catholic Church. The Vincentian friar Fr. Jesús Mª Cavanna argued intelligently that the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo belonged to a different milieu and that teaching them would misrepresent current conditions. It was therefore unwise to enforce the books in schools. But all protestations were ignored. Recto won and his bill was signed into law on 12 June 1956.

A curious section in this law, the first one actually, states that:

Courses on the life, works and writings of José Rizal, particularly his novel Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, shall be included in the curricula of all schools, colleges and universities, public or private: Provided, that in the collegiate courses, the original or unexpurgated editions of the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo of their English translation shall be used as basic texts.

The author(s) mentioned the word unexpurgated. This means that Rizal’s novels should be taught without censoring or amending it. If we are to go into technicalities (which is the wont of most laws and lawyers, if not all), translating his novels from Spanish to English is already tantamount to expurgation. And if taught in translation, the novels can be expurgated. This is evident enough in the numerous Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo textbooks that our schools use.

In this regard, the Rizal Law is, humorously, violating itself.

Rizal and the Spanish language

Truth to tell, although the said law states that English translations shall be used in the teaching of Rizal’s novels, Recto never had the English language in mind especially since this Tiáong native has Spanish as his first language. And being an intellectual and linguist (he reportedly mastered the English language in only three months!), he should have known first hand the dangers of translation. The late Ilonga writer/translator Soledad Lacson vda. de Locsín herself shared her insights into this matter while translating Rizal’s novels into English:

Spanish is a beautiful language; but translated into English literally, it becomes florid and clumsy with its long periodic sentences, shifting tenses and wandering modifiers and, therefore, less comprehensible.

To make the above statement simpler, how many ingenious Tagalog jokes are robbed of its humor when translated into English, and vice versa?

Translation per se is not bad. But oftentimes, it robs the cadence, the emotion, the sparse clarity, the wit, the humor, and the soul of what the original language had wanted to convey. Those who read Rizal through English translations of his novels do not notice the stark sarcasm of the author towards the institutions and persons that he was maligning. Another flaw which Lacon-Locsín had wisely observed was that there seemed to be a “greater pursuit to depict the political and social thoughts of Rizal’s time in the context of the translator’s milieu rather than simply to tell the story of a different world in a different time.”

Although translations have to be in tandem with the semantics of the age in which they are read to be appreciated, my own personal view is that they should, as much as possible, capture much of the nuances and cadence of the period in which they had been written; even at the risk of sounding awkward or stilted.

And how can the nuances and cadence of Rizal’s period be captured? By “capturing” Rizal’s mind. And how to capture this still mysterious mind?

There is a key: the Spanish language, of course.

We always quote Rizal: “To foretell the destiny of a nation, it is necessary to open the book that tells of her past.” But reading our past through translations is never enough. And it is not giving justice to Rizal whenever we read his poems, novels, and essays in English/Tagalog. English is so foreign to him as Swahili is so distant to us. In order to understand Rizal fully, it is necessary to capture the nuances of his genius.

Not only that, by learning Spanish we will uncover more about ourselves. We shall be able to, at last, open the book that tells us of our past. Our real past. Already, the small amount of “Spanish evidence” that we have is shedding much light about who we are and what we were. What more if we are able to salvage more than 13 million documents stocked in the National Archives, written in Spanish, waiting to be “decoded”?

Hopefully, our nation’s leaders will make something that is significantly historic: by fully reintegrating the Spanish language back into our lives. In doing so we will be able to understand what Rizal was all about, what his motives were, his emotions and attitude towards everything he tackled, and why he truly deserves to be called el pilar de nuestra nación.

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My Facebook photos of Rizal@150.

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