To many Metro Manileños, Nasugbú, Batangas is a place that is synonymous to family and barcada beach outings. The first time I was here was way back in college together with my neighborhood friends. And since then (until now), that is the only thing I know about Nasugbú: its famous beaches.
The second time I visited it was last year, during me and my wife’s 12th-year anniversary last year (13 September). After a drizzly afternoon of swimming at picturesque Muntíng Buhañgin Beach Camp, we visited the old población, like what we usually do whenever we go out of town, to take pictures of ancestral houses and the center of activities in each Filipino town during the Spanish times: the town church.
We got a bit confused when we started asking around for the location of the town church, especially when we did see the towering structure of the town’s Saint Francis Xavier Parish Church.
The tricycle driver whom we asked for directions insisted that it was not the town’s original church. I was starting to believe him, especially since the structure is indeed very modern. He led us to someplace else, outside the town proper. We had no idea what church was this guy talking about, nor where he was taking us. But we felt that we’re off to another adventure.
And I was right.
Upon seeing the ruins, I felt a bit ashamed of myself. Here I am, parading myself as a passionate online history buff, but how come I haven’t even heard of this?! Fail.
I learned that the name of this church was Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Escalera or Our Lady of the Staircase (probably in reference to the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, Nuevo México, but I could be wrong). According to stories from the locals, this church was burned by the Spaniards at the height of the Katipunan rebellion (the so-called Philippine Revolution).
Huh? Something’s quite wrong with the picture.
The Spaniards burned their own structure? A structure they considered holy?
I began to realize that the site has become yet another perfect example of the notorious, malicious, and twisted leyenda negra.
This 19th-century church was said to have been destroyed during the skirmish between the Spanish troops and the Filipinos (Katipuneros). In the Nasugbú Tourism Quarterly (April-June 2000 issue), Francisco Villacrusis wrote that after imprisoning the townsfolk inside this church, the Spaniards burned it down, killing the people inside. But Villacrusis did not cite any reference. And his claim is preposterous. Here are my reasons:
1) The Spaniards, being devote Catholics, would never have done such an atrocity.
2) There were only a few Spaniards in the Philippines, from start (1565) to finish (1898). As a matter of fact, during that time, the only “white face” that one usually encounters in far-flung villages is that of the friar.
3) To the best of my knowledge, there was no other instance of “church-burning” that was instigated by the Spanish troops in other places in the country outside of Násugbu.
The only church-burner that I know of are the Katipuneros themselves. Andrés Bonifacio was a church-burner himself. As a matter of fact, he attempted to burn the church in nearby Indang in Cavite province. And he did considerable damage to the church.
In view of the foregoing, all accusing fingers should point to the Katipuneros, not the meager Spanish troops.
And many of these so-called “Spanish troops” were native Filipinos, by the way…
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Meanwhile, in my adoptive province of La Laguna, there’s another church left in ruins, and it’s in Calauan…
But that’s another story (coming very soon!).