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Category Archives: Bahay Na Bató

Pahiyás Festival 2011 (Lucbán, Tayabas)

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When he was still a Mason, Rizal once calumnied the town fiesta in his first novel. Hispanophobic elements in our educational system carried on what was but an immature satire from the national hero’s imagination. But today, who is seriously making fun of the fiesta? One could not even see such calumnies in Lucbán, Tayabas (now Quezon province) every May. In that, Rizal’s anti-Catholic clowning failed, at least in this pastoral town. Last week (15 May) was a dream come true for me. I’ve been wanting to visit this town since I was a kid. I first read about the town, particularly the fiesta that made it famous, from an uncle’s old textbook. Since then, the sights and flavor described in that textbook never left my imagination. Finally, after two decades, I was able to experience the famous Pahiyás Festival (together with my wife and my cousin and her boyfriend)! The Pahiyás Festival (“pahiyás” means “precious offering”) is celebrated every May. It signifies the end of summer and the start of the rainy season. It is in honor of Saint Isidore (San Isidro), patron saint of farmers. The people of Lucbán thank him for interceding for them for a good harvest. But according to a local (a godfather of my cousin’s boyfriend), whether or not their harvest is fruitful, they never fail to thank the Spanish saint for praying to God for them. And they express their gratitude through this colorful celebration of life and a bountiful harvest!

This landmark signifies that you're near the town of Lucbán. I have no idea what this farm produces. But the landscape is cute nonetheless.

The fiesta produced a horrendous traffic going into the town. Lesson learned: when one plans to visit the annual Pahiyás Festival, travel time from the metropolis should begin at dawn.

A backdrop of Monte de Banahaw de Lucbán seen from the entrance of the town. Professional mountaineers classify it as a Level 5/9 mountain in terms of climbing difficulty.

Monte de Banahaw de Lucbán stands 6,152 feet above sea level! Take note that this mountain is not the actual Monte de Banahaw; it is just a part of the Banahaw mountain range of which Monte de Banahaw and Monte de Cristóbal are a part of.

Southern Luzón State University is at the entrance of the town (in Barrio Culapì).

I noticed that many Filipino houses here are well-maintained. Good job, Lucbán!

Yeyette in front of the 169-year-old house of Dñª Ana María Herrera de Nepomuceno.

Municipal hall.

Lucbán town plaza. The Rizal monument (left) has the national hero's Mí Último Adiós written all over it. But it's in the Spanish original. I wonder how many Lucbeños understand it.

This colorful pancít habháb kiosk is an entrant at a local competition. Pancít habháb, a Lucbán delicacy

Old Center Pancitería, said to be the home of the original pancít habháb.

A modernized version of the pancít habháb. I didn't like it (most of the time, I always prefer original versions), but this one still tasted good!

The image of Saint Isidore on a carroza is being taken out for the famous Pahiyás parade.

The size of the people pales in comparison to that huge San Miguel Pale Pilsen replica on top of the public market!

We have the "best seat in the house"! :-)

The best-decorated houses are given prize money ranging from ₱3,000 to ₱50,000.

Cayó ná ang mayaman. :-)

My one and only! ;-)

Scene stealer.

Back to where we began.

Carabaos were also the stars of the parade!

The pancít habháb sold outside the streets are much better than those inside local restaurants. The old-fashioned way is always the best!

I bought one!

¡Gigante!

It's nighttime already. But the throng of people didn't even lessen.

Street revelers in a street party!

Lucbán delights (the food, not them): jardinera, pancít habháb, mechado de carabáo, etc.

******* Lucbán According to popular legend, Lucbán town was named after a citrus fruit called lucbán (Citrus maxima, otherwise known as sujà or pomelo; see photo below). The town of Lucbán (just a couple of kilometers from my birthplace) was founded by missionaries from the Order of Friars Minor, otherwise known as the Franciscan friars. Like present-day Taal in Batangas, Lucbán used to be on another site. The town was transferred to its present site in 1629. ******* Lucbán Church (Church of Saint Louis the Bishop)

Lucbán Church (Iglesia/Parroquia de San Luis Obispo).

Lucbán Church, formally known as the Church of Saint Louis the Bishop, is an example of a pre-modern baroque church. As can be read in the historical marker, this church was built in 1595 but was ruined in 1629. The second church was constructed between 1630 and 1640, but a conflagration severely damaged it in 1733. The present church was completed in 1738; the convent followed in 1743.

Retablo.

Santíssima Trinidad.

An image of Saint Louis (1274 – 1297) at the right side of the nave. At twenty three years old, he became a very young Bishop of Toulouse, France. What was I doing back then at his age? Already a young father of one, of course.

Impressive façade — with a human head, haha!

Saint Isidore The Farmer (San Isidro Labrador)

Saint Isidore, Patron of Farmers, was born at Madrid, Spain, of a poor family at the end of the 12th century. He was named after the famous Bishop of Seville, and from an early age was employed as a laborer on a farm outside the city. He married a lovely girl, but after the early death of their son they agreed to live in continence. Isidore went to church every morning, prayed while working in the fields, and spent the holidays visiting the churches of Madrid. One time, his fellow workers complained that his religious practices caused him to be late at work. To test the truth of this accusation, his master hid himself to watch. He noticed that Isidore did actually arrive late, but he also saw several angels assisting him.

San Isidro Labrador. Not many Filipinos know that he's a Spaniard (from Madrid).

Isidore’s generosity to the poor was so great that he often reserved for himself only the scraps they left over. One a winter’s day, while carrying a sack of corn to be ground, he saw a number of birds on the bare branches of a tree. He opened the sack and poured out half of its contents for them. When he reached the destination, the sack was still full and its produce double of the usual amount of flour! Isidore died in 1130. From that time, many miracles were worked through his intercession. His wife, who survived him for several years, is venerated in Spain as Santa María de la Cabeza (because her head is often carried in procession in times of drought).

María Torribia, commonly known as Santa María de la Cabeza, the wife of San Isidro Labrador.

(Culled from my daughter’s MY FIRST BOOK OF SAINTS published by Quality Catholic Publications; minor edits are mine).

Las turistas: me (looking a bit harassed, haha!), my wife Yeyette, my cousin Joycee, and her boyfriend Jivann in front of Lucbán Church.

Lucbán Church shortly before midnight.

After enjoying the sights and sounds of Lucbán on its most special day, one will immediately know the meaning of its old Tagalog motto: ¡yanong riquít, baling gandá!

Click here for more photos of PAHIYÁS 2011!

Filipinization: a process

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Whenever I pass by the tianguê-filled streets of Baclaran or Divisoria, I am reminded of those that are in South America. Fruit vendors found in almost all parts of the country —even in posh Macati City— are no different at all from their Latino counterparts with regards to the manner of selling, the bodily movements in conducting trade.

The similarities are striking.

Whenever I visit my dad’s hometown of Unisan, I am astounded by the población’s network of roads: they horizontally and vertically crisscross each other. And at the heart of the small town itself is the old church. Indeed, the architecture of Unisan’s población is a perfect trademark of the Spanish friar-engineer’s ingenuity. And almost all old towns all over the archipelago follow this “square-shape” pattern.

Fiestas, the wheel, town cemeteries, plowing, spoon and fork, social graces, the guisado, rondalla, potato, papaya, camote, La Virgen María, paper and book culture, la mesa, la silla, painting, old street names and our family surnames, Holy Week and Simbang gabí, the bahay na bató, the calendar that we use, the name of our country, our nationality, etc. All these items, techniques, and concepts that were once foreign to us are now considered endemic. Without these, it is unthinkable for a Filipino to even exist. But these things that are crucial for our everyday existence are taken for granted like the the clouds in the sky.

There are two simple ways to determine what a Filipino is: by his name and by what he eats. Like most Filipinos, I have a Spanish name (José Mario Alas), but my diet is Asian (I eat rice). These determinants make me a unique product of a Western-Eastern symbiosis. This blending is what makes me a Filipino. I recognize both sides, but what surfaces the most is my Hispanic side for it completes my Filipino national identity. But Fr. José S. Arcilla, S.J., couldn’t have said it better:

Even if we peel off our Asian traits, we will remain “Filipino”. Remove our Hispanized ways and local idioms and we could no longer be recognized as Filipino.

"España y Filipinas" por el pintor famoso, Juan Luna.

The heritage bequeathed to us by Spain is not only ubiquitous: they are part of our lives. They are, in fact, our very lives. Our hispanic traits are what make us true Filipinos. This claim does not intend to glorify Spain, neither should it be misunderstood as a “longing to become a Spaniard,” which is very ridiculous to say the least (frankly speaking, I care less about today’s Zapatonto-led Spain). This is merely an acknowledgment of facts regarding our true Filipino Identity which is based on our Hispanic heritage. Also, to acknowledge our Hispanic past doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to negate everything that came before it. That can never be undone in the first place. This is just a matter of calling a spade a spade.

Indeed, if we strip away everything Asian from our identity, the Hispanic attributes will still remain. And these attributes are the same ones that the whole world can see in each and every Hispanic country scattered around the globe. But if we take away everything Hispanic in us to give way to purist nationalist dictates, then we will cease to become Filipino. We will disintegrate back to what we were before the conquistadores came: disunited; separated into a myriad of tribal kingdoms; perpetually aggressive towards one another.

In other words, if we remove our Hispanic traits, it will not harm the Hispanic world one bit. What will remain is the “Malay” or “Austronesian” in us that never made us Filipinos in the first place. The pre-Filipino Malay/Austronesian is composed of many tribes (Tagalog, Ilocano, Tausug, Ilongo, Pampangueño, etc.) that were never one, never united as a compact nation. The scattered Malay/Austronesian tribes in this archipelago which we now call our own before the Spaniards came never aspired into uniting with one another to become a much bigger nation because each tribe already thought of itself as a nation. To a pre-Filipino Bicolano’s mind, why should they unite with the pre-Filipino Cebuanos just to become another nation?

This they never thought of. And it took a foreign power for us to realize this Filipinization that we treasure to this very day.

This is the importance of reassessing our nation’s history. I always claim that ours is perhaps the most unique in the world because it is so mangled, so distorted. We continuously badmouth the nation (Spain) who virtually created us, complaining all the time that they “raped and destroyed our culture” even though we use cuchara and tenedor during meals while eating adobo or any guisado-based dishes, look at the calendario everyday, check out the time with our relój, say para to the jeepney driver, celebrate the Holiday Seasons, plan to visit Spanish Vigan to see the fantastic houses there, etc. But why continue this baseless, foolish, and counterproductive hatred? The Spaniards are no longer here. And we continuously deny the strong fact that without Spain, the concept of what a Filipino truly is as we know it today would have never existed. And by attacking our Spanish past, we are only harming ourselves, not Spain.

Rather than focus on personages, dates, and places, Philippine History teachers should focus more on the process of Filipinization. The word “history” comes from the greek verb historeo which means to “learn by inquiry”. So that is what teachers of Philippine History should do: inculcate into the minds of their students to inquire about the past, their past. History should not be about memorization of dates, places, events, names, etc. History is not a memorization contest. Although it is understandbale that, as much as possible, we should just leave historical facts to speak for themselves, it could not be feasible if our educators themselves continue to condition the minds of our young students into hating a past that should not be hated at all. In our particular situation, we all must learn how to reassess and inquire about the process of Filipinization. Why? Because of this so-called crisis of national identity which many scholars today erroneously claim we have.

As I have argued before, our national identity never left us. It has been with us all this time. A systematic false teaching of Philippine History just made us think that we do not have one.

“Ang hindí marunong lumiñgón sa pinangaliñgan ay hindí macacaratíng sa paróroonan”, says an old Tagalog proverb. But how can we move forward, how will we be able to determine where we are going if we do not know where we have come from? We always look into a mythical pre-Hispanic past, yearn for it, but that era of our lives was never us. It was only the catalyst to Hispanization which was really Filipinization. And this process gave birth to who and what we are today. The “pre-Hispanic Filipino” was never us. We have to calmly accept that fact, the way we have to accept natural disasters as part of our reality.

Más mabuti siguro tayo ñgayón cung hindí tayo sinacop ng mğa Kastilà. This is a very defeatist observation that has been prevailing for about a century already, for it has no basis most especially if we are to review our country’s economic history. Why aspire of “reverting” to a pre-Filipino past that never was?

The Philippines is such an ungrateful nation. We deserve to be poor. Thus, for all the unfounded badmouthing that we have thrown against her, we owe mother Spain an apology, and not the other way around.

It is time that we Filipinos should go back to our roots. Our real roots. That way, we will be able to steer the course of our national destiny.

Jerry Acuzar and heritage conservation

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For the heritage conservationist, San Nicolás in Manila is a well of opportunities to tap into one’s worth as a cultural worker. It is because this fabled district is filled with decaying centuries-old Filipino houses that are yet to be saved by the government and other concerned sectors. It is but unfortunate that there has been no move yet to salvage these historical treasures from the deathly claws of urbanization and civil apathy. Around three years ago, me and my friends Arnaldo Arnáiz and Will Tolosa visited the place and took pictures of almost all the antique houses. One that stood out from among the rest was the so-called Casa Vizantina.

BEFORE: A picture that I took of a decrepit-looking Casa Vizantina when it was still in the corner of Calles Madrid and Peñarubia, San Nicolás, Manila in 2008.

AFTER: Casa Vizantina restored to its former glory by Jerry Acuzar when we visited it last year in its new home in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataán.

I am very familiar with Casa Vizantina’s façade. Whenever we go to my mom’s home in Tondo, we often pass by San Nicolás, right in front of this house. Throughout my growing-up years of traveling to and from Tondo, I do notice this house’s gradual deterioration. Year after year, the house turns more uninhabitable although several squatter families still live inside it.

It is interesting to note that the popular Casa Manila in nearby Intramuros was modeled after Casa Vizantina. This San Nicolás gem was built in the late 1800s by a certain Don Lorenzo del Rosario. During the First World War, the house was leased out to the Instituto de Manila (former president Manuel Roxas once studied there! today, the school proper is in Sampáloc district and is now known as the University of Manila). When all of Manila was being burned and bombed by the Japanese Imperial Army and the US WASPs, almost all of San Nicolás was miraculously spared. But what the war did not do to this once majestic arrabal the neo-poor did. Casa Vizantina, for instance, was leased out to “various tenants”. Little by little, the house was apparently abandoned by its original owners. Sadly, this once-upon-a-time palace became a castle of various squatter families —a “legacy” of US WASP governance— from the Visayas and elsewhere. Many other old houses in San Nicolás were being toppled down almost every year. And this alarming travesty continues to this day. It is very disheartening to hear that in every regime change, promises of a booming economy are continuously thrown at our faces. But we never hear anything from them about conserving our past treasures such as these San Nicolás houses that could even rival those in Taal, Batangas. The San Nicolás houses have a very big potential to attract tourists especially our Spanish, Latin American, and even Southeast Asian friends (remember that the bahay na bató is a perfect blend of Oriental and Occidental). Since the dawn of the internet, blogging, and Facebook, we have been seeing so many self-appointed heritage advocates clamoring for the conservation of various heritage sites throughout the country. But the government paid attention to other duties. And hardly do we find any philanthropical action dedicated towards the conservation of our past architectural masterpieces.

Enter Jerry Acuzar in the picture.

This self-made millionaire from Quiapò, Manila has been collecting heritage houses (bahay na bató) from all over the Philippines for several years already. As a young boy, he used to pass by Calle Hidalgo on his way to school. In his growing-up years, he witnessed how the beautiful Filipino ancestral homes found in the said street deteriorated. He then wondered why these houses were not being taken cared of by both the owners and the local government. Years later, he took it upon himself to save prominent but abandoned/semi-abandoned antique houses found all over the country. After buying them from their respective owners, Acuzar had these houses dismantled (his critics use the word “demolition”), had them transported to his seaside hacienda in Bagac, Bataán, and from there resurrected to how they originally looked like. Originally, Acuzar planned to make his Bataán property his own private getaway, but changed his mind. He then opened his 400-hectare seaside resort to the general public. The once private hacienda became known as Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.

Casa Vizantina is one of the houses he was able to save from further humiliation, neglect, and possible destruction. It is now back to its former glory, albeit in a different site.

This herculean effort of Acuzar, however, received both praise and negative criticism from various sectors. Indignation against him reached its crescendo last year when the nation learned that he already bought and started dismantling the ancestral home of the national hero’s mother in Biñán, La Laguna. The dismantling was put to a halt when heritage conservation groups led by Dr. Rosauro “Bimbo” Sta. María of the United Artists for Cultural Conservation and Development, Inc. (UACCD) pressured the local government. As of this writing, the impasse between the City of Biñán and the UACCD vs Jerry Acuzar and Gerry Alberto has yet to be resolved. Over the past few months, my ambivalent stance towards the actions of Mr. Acuzar remains to be unresolved as well. Me and my wife had the opportunity to visit his estate late last year. Right after that visit, it dawned upon me that if it is possible to dismantle houses from their original locations, is it not possible to return them there as well? Shouldn’t we just consider Acuzar’s estate as a temporary haven for these houses, as a “safe-keeping” enclave where they will be maintained everyday until their local governments and/or original owners will be able to afford to take them back?

Various hispanistas and conservation heritage advocates such as popular travel blogger Ivan Henares and my Círculo Hispano-Filipino contertulios Gemma Cruz de Araneta and Dr. Fernando N. Ziálcita maintained that heritage structures should remain in situ. As Henares put it, “structures should remain where they are, preserved together with the environment they were built in”. But should these houses continue to remain where they are even if their very own environment starts neglecting them? That will no longer be heritage conservation.

Based on my observation (and experience), perhaps 99% of local governments all over our country do not have heritage conservation on the top of their to-do list. About a decade ago, I was working part-time for the now defunct Nueva Era newspaper which Señor Guillermo Gómez edited. It was the last Spanish-language newspaper in the Philippines. Me and Señor Gómez usually went around Metro Manila taking photos of all ancestral houses that our eyes could catch, for we feared that they will not remain standing in the next few years (before I joined the old man, he was already traveling around the country taking photos of various bahay na bató). We would then publish the photos in the said newspaper (those were the days before blogging, Facebook and Twitter ruled the universe). To our quixotic minds, since we are powerless to physically save those houses from being torn down, we were at least able to record historical memories for posterity’s sake. And browsing through past issues of Nueva Era, our fears proved to be true after all. We noticed that year after year, these Filipino houses continue to be demolished to give way to modernity. No worth at all is given for their historical value. Our patrimony was placed further into the darkest background. A bahay na bató was turned into nothing more but a mere bahay na bató that has no more place in modern times. It seemed as if nobody even cared to save these houses anymore.

But Acuzar is doing exactly that — saving Filipino structures from years and decades of neglect by having them transferred to his estate where they will remain taken cared of for good. Of course, the thought that he will earn money from it should be taken out of the question in the meantime. The fact remains that Acuzar will shell out money regularly to have these ancestral houses he had “snatched away” from neglect and ruin to be well-maintained and preserved for ages. Henares will definitely counter this. He wrote in his blog that the best solution is to educate the masses about the importance and worth of heritage structures found within their locality. I agree, or should agree. But is anybody doing this? With all due respect to Mr. Henares, has he or anybody else offered any concrete steps on how to do this? Who exactly should be responsible to educate the masses? And more importantly, who and how will this project be funded? And will this “education” immediately save the Alberto Mansion? Remember: around 20% of that structure was already dismantled last year. Only an official verdict is keeping it from being totally transported from Biñán to Bagac. Also, the owner, Gerry Alberto, needs no education on heritage; he is a highly educated man, and a distant relative of Rizal himself.

Henares also added that Acuzar should just build replicas in his hacienda instead. Still, building a replica of, say, the Alberto Mansion will not exactly save the Alberto House in Biñán. Gerry Alberto gave up on it already due to financial problems of maintaining it. If he hadn’t sold it to Acuzar, then he would have sold it to other people. And if that ever happened, perhaps a more terrible scenario could have occurred to the house itself. But in Acuzar’s hands, at least future generations will still be able to see it. And, as I have mentioned earlier, there is always the possibility of bringing the whole house back to Biñán once the Biñenses are truly ready to take care of it.

Going back to the Alberto House, what matters here now is how it should be conserved. And Acuzar was able to find a more viable solution. Before the Acuzar purchase, almost nobody ever gave a damn as to what this house is all about. But when the purchase and dismantling commenced, out came the “concerned” activists. Out came the “angry voices”. Out came Facebook pages trying to save the Alberto House. I guess what I hate about this hullaballoo is why do we have to wait for an Acuzar to enter the picture before we TRULY act? Now, it’s almost too late.

I would like to stress out that I am not against movements such as the UACCD. It’s just that their protestations came out a little too late. And although I am saddened by the thought that the spot where the Alberto house still stands might become vacant soon, I admit that I have now become somewhat soft against Acuzar’s ancestral-house purchases because to date only he has provided the most viable solution against the destruction of Filipino ancestral homes. Sometimes, unwanted methods had to be used for the sake of heritage conservation. Such are the methods of Acuzar. So let me make this clear once more: what I dislike about this heritage controversy is the apparent tardiness of Filipinos. They usually make noise only when the trouble has started to make serious damages.

I received some flak against members of the UACCD for my rather unfriendly remarks against their protest rally last year. One member even dared me on my sentiment about not writing anything about Biñán anymore. But let bygones be bygones. Right now, what is important is for all people concerned to save Doña Teodora Alonso’s ancestral house in situ. Besides, Dr. Sta. María himself revealed to me that he and his group has finally made some “strategic plan” to save the Alberto ancestral house. I have yet to interview him to know more about this. It is still worth a try. It might save not only the Alberto Mansion but also all ancestral homes in San Nicolás as well as those found all over the country.

But if this proves to be another failure, then let us all leave Jerry Acuzar alone.

Lastly, if P-Noy is really sincere in attaining everything good for our country’s sake, then may he be able to transfer the still existing military slush funds into saving the Alberto Mansión. With political will, he can do that in just a snap of a finger. Turn bad money into good.

Heritage conservation should not rest solely on non-governmental institutions such as the UACCD. It should be one of our government’s top priorities. Conserving our patrimony will help us map out our future because through it, we will be able to catch a glimpse of our future by reflecting on images of our beautiful past. And glimpses of our beautiful past are still within our midst.

Not everything is lost yet. Just look around; you might be able to see a bahay na bató “shimmering” alone on a street corner…

Bay, the lake’s padrino (Bay, La Laguna)

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Later Tagalog arrivals would sail up the Pásig to Laguna de Baí, on whose shores would rise their bailiwicks and colonies. Their capital was the town of Baí; and so all this lake country —and the lake itself— became known as Baí. —Nick Joaquín—

It’s not unusual for married couples to be on a huff with one another. Well, that’s what happened to me and Yeyette last month (11/06/2010) when we attended the birthday of a friend who lives in a residential area for military peeps in Ciudad de Taguig. You know, the usual tampuhan. And it’s funny because, although we’ve been together for more than a decade, and already with four kids, we still behave —and quarrel— as if we’re college sweethearts, haha! Not that I’m complaining. I even think it’s better that way. Perhaps it keeps us young. I don’t know. Sometimes, I do feel that we’re going over the edge. But at the end of the day, the crumples on our shirts are always ironed out (I’m trying to invent an idiomatic expression here; hope that one’s not yet patented).

Sayang, Myla, ¡hindí man lang acó nalasíng! =)

So how did I fix the mess?

We were both silent in the jeepney on our way home after the birthday party (say… that rhymes!). It was already early dawn (11/07/2010). To break the ice, I nonchalantly suggested to her that because it was still dark, perhaps we could stroll in Bay, La Laguna for a while so as not to disturb our four kids and their yaya who were still sleeping. And also for us to have a breath of fresh air (and I have not yet blogged about that town, LOL!). I honestly never expected her to say yes, although the traveler in me had wanted such a reply. I just wanted her to speak up. Silence is so awkward for lovers who have a misunderstanding.

Surprisingly, she answered: “¿Gaano ba calayo yon? (How far is it?)”. That was an indication that everything was getting OK, hehe!

Fortunately for us, the jeepney driver, who was driving all night long, lives in Santa Rosa, La Laguna. And he was raring to go home that dawn. That’s why we didn’t have to transfer from one jeep to another.

We reached Santa Rosa shortly after six in the morning. We took another jeep going to nearby Calambâ where we got off to a jeepney terminal situated in a crowded place which Calambeños call “Crossing”. We had to wait for our jeep (going to San Pablo, La Laguna) to be filled up with passengers before going to Bay. In a matter of minutes, we were already zooming through the highway surrounded by spectacular views of mountains and greenery.

Bay is the town right after Calambâ and Los Baños. It used to be the capital of the whole province of La Laguna. But the capitolio was later moved to Santa Cruz.

The jeepney driver dropped us right in front of the church. We were just a few minutes late for the 7 AM mass.

Iglesia de Bay

The church is dedicated to one of the greatest philosophers and theologians of all time: Saint Augustine of Hippo Regius (in present-day Algeria). He is, incidentally, the patron saint I chose when I reconverted to the Catholic faith a few years back. He, too, was a convert to Catholicism, having lived a hedonistic life in his youth. Well, it’s not that I had lived the same life he had experienced. But he was a sinner before he became a saint, not unlike most Catholic saints that we have who had lived chaste lives throughout most of their existence.

Iglesia de Bay, La Laguna

The first church was founded by Augustinian monks in 1571 led by Fr. Martín de Rada (an off-on-a-tangent trivia: my mom grew up in a street in Tondo named after this friar). It was made of nipa and bamboo in a place called Aplaya, a corrupted Tagalog version of the Spanish la playa meaning “beach”. This means that the first church made of wood used to be in front of Laguna de Bay. It became a full-fledged parish on 30 April 1578. Being the founders of the church and the Christianized town, it was only natural for the Augustinians to administer Bay. One hundred fifty-nine years later, it was transferred to the care of the Franciscans. The patron saint and the church’s name, however, remained Augustinian.

In 1804, the church was transferred to its present site in the the población or town proper. The new church was made of stone and was supervised by Fr. Gerónimo Hervas. The construction was finally completed after 60 years, but a strong earthquake in 1880 destroyed its roofing. In 1884, Fr. Jesús Lillo had it restored. The restoration work was finished by Fr. Celestino de los Huertos in 1889.

All these restorations and constructions were put to naught during World War II. Sadly, the church and its accompanying convent were completely wiped out. Eight years after the war, Fr. Alejandro Vermorel resurrected the Parish Church of Saint Augustine. He had the façade patterned after the architectural styles of the Early Renaissance period. It was simple in design, with a semicircular door and window openings. The church’s pediment is also adorned with a circular window in its tympanum.

The church’s interiors are very modest. Not surprising since the original church was destroyed by brimstone and fire due to man’s folly (i.e., war). Aside from a chapel dedicated to the Divine Mercy apparition, it has nothing stunning to offer, architecture wise. Even the retablo is not that “loud” with design if one is to compare it with other antique Philippine churches. But the faithful, particularly its senior womenfolk, are a sight to behold: many of them still wear veils on top of their crowns. That’s the way it really should be with female churchgoers regardless of age.

A view of the church's nave and altar from the entrance.

Bay's lady folk selling religious items by the church door.

The church's modest chapel dedicated to the famous Divine Mercy apparition.

Chapel of Saint Augustine. It is attached to the church outside.

A mass was being held that Sunday morning when we arrived (6:00 AM).

Inside the chapel of Saint Augustine, smoked by brightly colored candles.

Bay church's north transept. Notice the initials of the town's patron saint embedded at the top of each buttress.

Handsomely designed circular wood ceiling right above the altar.

The faithful of Bay. Me and Yeyette noticed that many female churchgoers here (mostly the elderly) are still wearing veils on top of their heads. That's the way it's supposed to be.

Bay Church's bell tower. I failed to climb this because one has to pass through the choirloft. In this church, there is a sign that strictly prohibits non-choir members to go up the choirloft. Aside from that, a mass was going on.

Población

The town proper, with its narrow roads and small stalls, somehow reminds me of Unisan. The only difference is that Bay is bustling with vehicular energy, not to mention noise. Its because its main thoroughfare serves as an entrepot between Los Baños, Victoria, Pila, and other lakeshore towns of La Laguna province.

Petness First (not the gym).

Yeyette enjoying "Monay Bae". "Bae" is another variant of the name "Bay". "Monay" is a local bread.

Bay's main road.

Municipal hall.

Yeyette with <em>Aling</em> Siony (Asunción Señadoza), owner of the most popular eatery in the <em>población</em>, very near the church.

Bahay na bató

We also noticed that there are a few Filipino houses, commonly known as bahay na bató, in Bay. If the town church was profaned by bombs, guns, and fire during the last war, obviously the rest of the town burned down with it. And of those very few old Filipino homes we found, only two stood out: The Marfori and Peláez ancestral homes. Unfortunately, we have not gathered much information about these two handsome houses. There’s not even a soul inside the Marfori house, this according to the people around it.

Casa Marfori. It is the oldest ancestral house in town, one of the few which survived the last war. For a time, it also served as a pharmacy, thus the words "Farmacia Marfori" painted on the façade that has already fainted trough the years.

The Marfori house's red-tiled roof is still intact — a rarity nowadays among antique Filipino homes.

Casa Peláez.

Casa Peláez from another angle.

A view of Casa Marfori's façade taken right in front of its neighbor, Casa Peláez.

Yeyette asking some residents about the two old houses' (Marfori and Peláez) history. They said that the deceased matriarch of the Peláez house was Spanish-speaking. But of course; it shows in the house itself.

Feeling history first hand — literally!

Wifey found some old bricks in the walls of Casa Marfori!

Another bahay na bató; (probably postwar), said to be owned by a former town mayor. This one stands on Bay's main highway.

Laguna de Bay

Our journey around Bay would not have been complete without a short stop to the lake —the largest in the Philippines— whose name was taken from the town itself.

It was the Spanish conquistadores led by Juan de Salcedo and some Augustinians who renamed this trilobate lake after the town of Bay (sometimes spelled as “Baé” or “Ba’i”). Renamed, because it has been called “Tadlác ng Ba’i” by its Tagalog-speaking settlers before the white men arrived. Or maybe “translated” is the better term instead of “renamed” because “laguna de Bay” and “tadlác ng Ba’i” have the same meaning, anyway.

Laguna de Bay, being trilobate, is composed of the west bay, east bay, and central bay. Isla de Talím, the largest of the lake’s nine islands and which is very visible to the town of Bay (from Barrio San Antonio), is right between the west and central bay.

But why did the Spaniards named the lake after Bay? Why not Laguna de Tabuco, or Laguna de Pinagsañgahán (Pagsanján), or some place else? It’s because Bay was then the largest settlement along the lake. It was large enough to attract Chinese merchants who were docked in Bahía de Manila. They sailed through the then crocodile-infested waters of Pásig River and the menacing Paso Diablo (or the “Devil’s Pass”, Laguna de Bay’s deepest part which is near Alabang, Ciudad de Muntinlupà) just to trade with the Tagalog tribesmen of Bay. After the trade, these Chinese go back to Manila bay, bringing with them boatloads of forest products.

This trade between the Chinese in Manila Bay and the first folk of Bay, by the way, will also help explain why Tondoc (now the Manila district of Tondo) and Santa Ana de Sapa (now the Manileño district of Santa Ana) were major ports during that time. That trade was a vital factor as to why these two places were populous when the Spaniards led by Miguel López de Legazpi (Salcedo’s grandfather) arrived. Bay, in a way, had a hand in it. =) As a matter of fact, Bay, for a time, was even considered a part of the old Kingdom of Namayan whose capital was in Santa Ana de Sapa.

a lovely view of rice fields on our to the lake of Bay (commonly known as Laguna de Bay).

Barrio; San Antonio is a barangáy; right beside the lake of Bay.

A fishpond! The lake is near!

Laguna de Bay

She thinks that she will never see, a living thing as gigantic as this narra tree!

Isla de Talím in the distance. According to old Spanish records, this small island in the middle of Laguna de Bay was a very forested area teeming with deer, wild boar, doves, and even giant bats!

The same narra tree whose photo I took earlier. And we noticed that it's roughly five storeys high!

A handsome balete tree!

There's a lamb here in Bay!

Bantáy Laua (lake guardians) Headquarters.

Pulóng Bay; (Bay Islet) can be reached in a matter of minutes. It has a small hut used by fishermen as a resting place.

Yeyette with a bantáy laua officer (to man sitting on the table to her right), taking care of an illegal-fishing case involving the people beside them.

Say no to guns!

Grains of gold!

A river coursing towards the lake.

It was truly an enjoyable morning we had in Bay! We had a wonderful time searching for history, food tripping, and nature tripping. It was a wonderful and unforgettable trip. Sans the motor vehicles, For a “laywoman” like Yeyette, it was educational, as well. And most important of all, little did we know that our petty “lover’s quarrel” dissipated over time! We were like foreigners in another country. We were like kids, even, when we got near the lake and enjoyed its flora!

And because everything was OK between the two of us, we agreed to proceed to Victoria the soonest possible time!

Heck, no. Not the motel. I meant Victoria, La Laguna, the town north of Bay and Calauan. Cayó talagá… We hope to get there (again, Victoria, La Laguna) this month or in January.

Till next time, Filipino eReaders! =)

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.

Wisdom of the ages: la Señora Doña Benita Marasigan vda. de Santos

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With the granddaughter of national hero Marcelo H. del Pilar, la Señora Doña Benita Marasigan vda. de Santos

“Anó ang nangyari sa buhay có? Namulubi lang ang familia co. Ualáng nangyari sa mañgá guinauá co…” thus said a dying and remorseful Marcelo H. del Pilar, as relived by his 92-year-old granddaughter, Atty. Benita Marasigan-Santos.

Del Pilar died for country and principles. But precious time that was supposed to be for his wife and two young daughters Sofía and Anita went with him to the grave. Despite of it all, Lola Bening was still proud of his Lolo Celo for his patriotism.

Last 5 September, I had the rare opportunity to “speak with history” when a cousin of my dad, Paul Évora III, happened to read the article that I wrote about del Pilar which coincided with the national hero’s 160th birth anniversary. He was the one who arranged my lunch meeting with Lola Bening. And since, to the best of my knowledge, I have never met Uncle Paul all my life (I found him only through this wonderful online creature called Facebook), little did I know that his partner, Corina Unson, is actually the youngest daughter of Lola Bening.

We were welcomed by Uncle Paul and his gracious better half at their homely enclave within the bustling party district of Malate. For me, it was a queer sight to see such a handsome bahay na bató in highly urbanized Manila, still standing proudly and mysteriously behind a youngish narra tree (the house sometimes spooks the wits out of unknowing passersby, Uncle Paul told me).

The Marasigan-del Pilar ancestral house. At the gate are Uncle Paul, Yeyette, and Auntie Corina.

Lola Bening, despite her old age (she was born on 4 April 1918), was still sharp of mind. Very sharp. Like her grandfather, she used to be a writer. In fact, her English translation of her grandfather’s Spanish letter to her Tía Josefa landed a spot in Dr. Celedonio G. Aguilar’s Readings In Philippine Literature (Rex Book Store, Ciudad de Quezon, 1994). Trained as a laywer, she wrote numerous articles but mostly about her favorite subject: Philippine History.

“When I was a student at the University (of Santo Tomás), I befriended the librarian there. Once, I asked her if I could gain access to the archives to read the works of my grandfather, “La Frailocracía Filipina” and “La Soberanía Monacal en Filipinas“. I was hoping that I could translate them (from Spanish into English). When I was not allowed access, I spoke with the rector who explained to me that ‘the times have already changed’, that it is really not necessary to read them anymore.” I immediately understood the reason why she was denied access. I explained to her that due to the anti-Catholic content of the two essays, the Catholic university thought it best not to have them exposed to a new generation of Filipinos who no longer deserved a useless war between the religious and secular thought. But I assured her that translations are now available everywhere, including the internet.

If not for her blindness, I am quite certain that Lola Bening would still be writing.

Lola Bening also recounted how her family lost their fortune due to her grandfather’s costly eight-year self-exile in Barcelona, Spain. Whenever they could, the family sent del Pilar money to sustain himself as well as to keep his anti-clerical activities up and running. Although a devout Catholic, Lola Bening seemed not to be ashamed of her grandfather’s stance towards the friars because she believed that what del Pilar did was right and was for the benefit of the masses.

After del Pilar’s death, the family was somehow able to rise from the ashes of poverty due to the hero’s youngest daughter’s marriage to businessman Vicente Marasigan.

“On the day of my mother’s marriage, she was crying the whole time because she never wanted to marry my father,” said Lola Bening. The reason? “It was a planned marriage. And besides, my mother preferred to study than get married.” She then bade us to a sepia photo hanging on the sala wall to examine the countenance of her then young mother who was with her father. The photo was taken shortly before the marriage.

Portrait of Lola Bening's parents: Anita del Pilar and Vicente Marasigan.

“Take a good look. Notice the sadness in her face. She was crying before that picture was taken,” Lola Bening added.

The downcast countenance of Marcelo del Pilar's youngest daughter.

The wedding rings of Lola Bening's beloved parents, made of pure gold. They were married on 12 March 1912. The date is engraved in Anita's ring (the one with the name of Vicente engraved on it).

The couple's wedding rings with 13 gold coins or arras dating back to the Spanish times. The custom of giving 13 arras originated from Spain.

Fortunately for the rest of the family, Anita learned to love Vicente in the course of the marriage (Auntie Corina said that she and her siblings used to call them Lola Tâ and Lolo Tê respectively). The marriage produced nine children. As a testament of Anita’s background of grief, their first two children died. But as compensation —and quite ironically for the “Father of Philippine Masonry”— the Marasigan brood grew up to be god-fearing individuals. They were never influenced by their grandfather’s reputation as a high-ranking Mason. In fact, there were two religious among Vicente and Anita’s children: Ateneo de Manila University’s Fr. Vicente Marasigan, S.J., and; Sr. Mother Mary Aurora Marasigan of the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters (she globally headed the “Pink Sisters” a record four times). Lola Bening herself had her schooling in two Catholic institutions: the University of Santo Tomás (which was then in Intramuros) and Saint Paul University Manila. She eventually took up law, but was never able to practice it fully; she taught law and history at Saint Paul and also served time as a corporate lawyer. However, her husband, the late Justice Arturo B. Santos, took her place in the practice of law and served as judge of the Court of First Instance of Tarlac, Branch II.

Lola Bening proudly said that her father once owned a handsome house along Calle Isaac Peral (now United Nations Avenue in nearby Ermita) which eventually became the model of and setting for Nick Joaquín‘s Portrait Of An Artist As Filipino (even the Marasigan last name Nick adopted into that play’s main characters, but in no way do the fictional Marasigan players reflected the lives of the real ones, said Auntie Corina). They had another house near the Remedios Circle. It was there were Lola Bening spent her earlier years before transferring to their present home (built in 1929) in Calle Miguel Malvar (first known as Tennesse street; renamed Mindoro Street during the Japanese Occupation).

At the height of the controversial snap presidential polls of 1986, Lola Bening was one of the leaders of the National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections. During that stint, she was interviewed by a then struggling correspondent who later on became an Emmy-Award-winning journalist: Jim Clancy of CNN International.

During our lunch meeting, I was actually expecting to learn more about del Pilar (the man, not the hero) that I have never read nor heard before. Quite embarassingly, I was told of the anecdote of “Ang Piso Ni Anita“, something quite famous in the academe but was totally unfamiliar to me. However, I learned more about Anita and her pains throughout her life. Throughout her childhood, she was yearning for fatherly love. Lola Bening said that as a child, her mother used to look at photos of her dad, contemplating on how he looked like in person, asking her elders more about how her father’s physical appearance beyond the photos.

As history had taught us, Anita and her Ate Sofía (whom Lola Bening took care of during her final years) never saw their father again when the latter left for Spain in late 1888. All for the love of country. They saw him one last time, though — inside a coffin on a cold December day in 1920 amidst cheers from Masons and government leaders at the Manila pier. Then many years later, just as when Anita had learned what love is with Vicente, the latter was dead set on offering his services to join the struggle against the 14th Imperial Japanese Army. All for the love of country. A dramatic confrontation ensued, as witnessed by Fr. Marasigan (Auntie Corina shared that —fortunately for Anita— Vicente’s love of family prevailed over him).

Anita’s death was perhaps as painful as her depressing moments in life. In 1955, she suffered a stroke and was in comatose for 40 days before Death finally took pity on her.

Anita’s life was a revelation. Something about her story made me love my wife and kids more and more, for they never had to endure the sufferings of a sorrowful wife and fatherless children.

Lola Bening continued sharing her thoughts not only about her grandfather and Philippine history (she even knows the controversial and delicate issue of “Le Fableux Doña Ysidra” but was careful not to mention any name), she was also up to date with current events. A few years ago, at the height of the much-publicized Subic rape case, she advised close friend Fr. James Reuter, S.J. to be cautious in the issue that was then confronting American Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith. And wisely so because the much-beloved Jesuit became spiritual adviser to the accused and their respective families. His task indeed should be more spiritual than mundane. Fr. Reuter thus avoided the controversial political aspects where he would have been up against a much powerful force: the radical feminist groups who were behind Smith’s “victim”.

“In the end, to settle the issue out of court, they (the US government) gave her (Nicole, Smith’s purported rape victim) a US visa which appeared to be what she wanted in the first place,” said Lola Bening, “because, strangely, her relatives got to the US ahead of her!”

She also asked us about what we thought of Noynoy. I wisely decided not to comment since it’s too early into his presidency to do so. But she was an anti-charlatan when it comes to opinion. She was, after all, basing her viewpoints on account of her age and experience throughout the decades. She wisely observed that our country, throughout its sad history, has been led too much by the elite (Auntie Corina kidded her on this comment, pointing out as if she’s in a glass house throwing stones!). She observed how our country’s natural resources have been exploited by outsiders, and how the WASPs have thrown their weight around our national leaders. Classic features of neocolonialism, I commented. To which she replied:

“Maybe it’s time that we recover our identity.”

Indeed it is time.

I would have asked her more about Intramuros and the Spanish language during her heyday. But out of courtesy, I didn’t — the family invited me mainly because of what I wrote about Marcelo H. del Pilar, so it was expected that I ask more about the propagandist. Hopefully, I’d be able to talk to her again to learn more about my beloved Walled City which she saw before the last war destroyed it.

Throughout the end of the visit, Lola Bening exhorted me and Yeyette to visit the 4,027-square-meter Marcelo H. Del Pilar Shrine in Bulacán, Bulacán, the land of which she donated to the government in 1983. She was beaming with pride on how she had helped build the shrine together with the government, and contributed to its many modifications for the sake of national posterity.

As we said our goodbyes while promising her that we will visit her dear grandfather’s shrine very soon, my mind was somehow drifting towards that lonely Barcelona room where a tubercular propagandist, more in pain from being away from his wife and daughters than from his ailment, was quietly weeping while writing letters to his loved ones. And as my mind drifted, I dreamily promised Lola Bening that “we will visit the Mabini Shrine very soon.”

The 92-year-old lady, still sharp of wits, corrected this absent-minded 31-year-old blogger of his unforgivable mistake:

“Del Pilar Shrine! Not Mabini, Pepe!”

Undoubtedly, Lola Bening’s grandfather would have been as alert as her if only he had reached his 90s. But such is the grand design of our history.

Uncle Paul, Auntie Corina, Lola Bening, Yeyette, and del Pilar's mascot.

The National Hero’s Crib (Calambâ, La Laguna)

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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.

Rizal Shrine

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.

This is Krystal's second time to visit the Rizal shrine (2006 was her first). This is just Momay's first visit.

An old map of Laguna de Bay and its environs. When I first traveled to this house with Arnaldo Arnáiz and our friend mutual friend Mike Adzuara a few years ago, I meticulously studied this map. This is where I found out that the name of that small river beside Festival Supermall in Alabang was Río Albán. It is now called Alabang River or sometimes as Mañgañgate. And it is from Albán where the name Alabang comes from.

A recipe from Narcisa Rizal de López!

=)

This well is said to be the only original remnant of the Rizal house before it was totally destroyed during the last war.

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 Day

A view of the shrine's museum.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is here!

It's not easy being green. The Rizal house as viewed from the garden.

Itatapon co sana, eh. Caso ang daming táo.

My kids with sculptures of little Pepe (not me, of course) and his dog Alipato.

Coinciding with Rizal's birthday was the oath faking, err, taking (hehe!) by local officials under Chief Justice Renato Corona.

The festive atmosphere spills outside Rizal's bahay na bató. Actually, the whole town is in merriment every 19th of June.

Soldiers in a nearby restaurant.

Vocalists.

The tall Chief Justice in the background.

Standing tall.

Above us red and blue.

¿Baquit maraming militar dito? Anyway, my kids got to experience going inside a battle tank!

Masons

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 overwhelming evidence put forth by Catholics, Protestants, and Masons alike (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.

Some jolly members of the ancient enemies of my faith.

The Most Worshipful Brother Avelino I. Razón, Jr. of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines.

Razón and his brother Masons, honoring Rizal who they thought died as a Mason.

Speaking with the media.

Masons, the enemies of Christianity.

In the presence of my enemies.

Masonic District No. 6, Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines, Dr. J.P. Rizal Lodge No. 270, Calambâ, La Laguna.

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.

Iglesia de San Juan Bautista.

Sa guilid ng iglesia.

The town

The world's biggest clay pot was completed in 1939.

This is considered to be biggest clay pot in the world. It is found in the plaza fronting the Church of Saint John the Baptist. The origin of Calambâ's name was said to have originated from a clay pot.

Calambâ still has a handful of handsome bahay na bató left.

Like many kids of my generation, I used to gather santán flowers for their sweet nectar. Fewer kids, especially in the urban areas, do that nowadays.

City College of Calambâ behind the Church of Saint John the Baptist. This used to be the municipal hall of Calambâ (when the city was still a town).

Well, he ought to be here coz he's from here.

Color of green: I love you green!

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.

A staircase -- what is left of General Vicente Lim's once fabulous bahay na bató.

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.

¡Viva Calambâ!

La casa solariega de Rizal.

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