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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). :D

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!

Travel with us to La Laguna Province!

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In early in 2012, I was invited to write a coffee table book for La Laguna Province. It was one of former Governor E.R. Ejército’s priority projects for the province’s culture and tourism sector. It took me more than a year to finish it, having had many sleepless moments (taking forty winks usually inside a provincial bus) because I had to juggle wage slavery, household responsibilities, and painstaking research and travel in between. I even developed varicose veins on both of my hands and forearms due to overtyping (and it pains me every single day up to this very moment). Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, the book project did not come into fruition. I am not even informed of its status anymore.

On the bright side, I was able to tour the whole province and got to meet many important people there and even got to befriend some of them. Probably the best part of that experience was that I was able to discover the province’s long-lost foundation date without even trying (and without being given proper recognition, haha). But still, my dream of becoming a published writer remains unfulfilled. And worse, all that hardwork I poured for what could have been my very first book was all for naught.

Or so I thought.

At the Rizal Shrine in Calambâ.

Several days ago, my good ol’ buddy Arnaldo broached to me this idea of his about us becoming tour guides. Actually, he already suggested the idea to me months ago. I flatly declined, telling him that I’m just a blogger, that the only people I can tour without my knees shaking out of nervousness are my family. But Arnaldo’s the resilient type of guy. He was finally able to convince me by saying that I’m no different from him, that he’s just a blogger too. And he added that the edge that we have over other tourist guides is our background in Filipino History. We’re not just history buffs but citizen historians (gracias por introducirme a esta terminología, Señor José Perdigón). While some tourist guides are doing what they’re doing for the sake of, perhaps, fame or money (or both), we intend this venture to be an extension of our respective blogs’ advocacy: to raise awareness on the true being of our national identity by providing a correct interpretation of our country’s history.

A scenic farm in Victoria.

We had “quinulób na itic“, salted eggs, and rice during a lunch stopover at “Itlog Ni Kuya” in Victoria. This town (once a part of Pila) is known as the “Duck Raising Center of Filipinas”.

Of course we have to admit the fact that earning millions of bucks from this tourism venture every month is enticing. And because of the exposure we’d be getting, Arnaldo and I will certainly receive lucrative offers from Star Cinema, Viva Films, ABS-CBN, GMA, and all those media giants to become their contract stars. But that’s beside our true objective and is only secondary. Believe it or not. Anyway, you will fully believe this more once you learn how much we will be charging our guests (it’s guaranteed to be a bargain)!

Ang Bayang Pinagpalà.

At first, the idea was to provide a tour within the Metro Manila area. But I cautioned Arnaldo that Metro Manila has been toured to death and is somewhat crowded with tour guides already (Carlos Celdrán, Ivan Man Dy, and Bryan Ocampo to name a few). They may not be as good-looking as the two of us, but still, the metropolis playground’s already filled. So why not do it somewhere near the National Capital Region? And then it hit me: why not La Laguna, a place which I am very familiar with? Arnaldo himself, being a resident of nearby Muntinlupa City, has also traveled extensively in La Laguna and has blogged many of its towns and cities numerous times. Besides, we are not aware of any regular tour guides covering the province. And more importantly, so many Filipinos have yet to know and experience the charming beauty of La Laguna’s rustic scenery, history, culture, and heritage. Many people know the province usually because of its hot springs (“¡Tara ná sa Pansol!“), Enchanted Kingdom, and being the birthplace of José Rizal, a reality which I find unfair and a bit demeaning because La Laguna has a lot more to offer other than hot spring resorts, national shrines, or carnivals.

The “Puerta Real” (or “Arco Real”) in Pagsanján has been standing on this road since 1878.

My interest with this tourism project grew each time Arnaldo drops by at our place to discuss about it. Even my wife Yeyette has high hopes for it. The two of them are damn sure that this will work out. But I really don’t know. Not that I’m a pessimist (actually, I am), but whenever I remember my failures as a writer, I feel so frustrated. Good thing that their positive attitude is contagious.

That’s why I’m now blogging about it. :-) Really, I think it is worth a try!

Completed in 1600, the church of Saint Sebastian the Martyr in Lumbán town proper is the first stone church in the whole province. Lumbán was also the “matriz de todos pueblos” or the mother town of all Franciscan-founded communities in the area.

So, when I was fully convinced to accept this project, Arnaldo trusted me with the liberty to choose which towns we should tour since I was more familiar with the place. It wasn’t that easy — I guarantee you that each and every town in La Laguna has something interesting to explore (yes, there are also noteworthy sights to see even in urban San Pedro Tunasán or in obscure Rizal!). But we had to face the fact that it is not possible to tour the whole province within a day or two. And we needed to tour guests for only a day. So after much thought and deliberation, I told him that we should do “two packages”. Package A would be a lakeshore tour, or those towns located right beside Laguna de Bay. Package B would be a mountain tour, or those towns located upwards Monte Banajao. In order for the tour to push through, we should have a minimum of 15 guests. Arnaldo said that he will take care of the logistics (particularly the vehicle) and much of the talking, hehe! Because I’m more of a listener than a speaker. However, in the event that we will have Spanish-speaking guests, then I will have to take over.

For now, our focus is on Package A. And the tentative itinerary for it is:

Calambâ —> Pila —> Pagsanján —> Lumbán —> Paeté —> Páquil.

As can be seen from the photos on this blogpost, me, my daughter Krystal, and Arnaldo already made an ocular  inspection of these places last November 2.

Paeté’s “Living Legend” Dr. Nilo Valdecantos of Kape Kesada teaches my daughter how to grind expensive Kopi Luwak beans into fine powder. Yes, we had the rare chance of savoring the most expensive coffee in the world for free! Thanks for this, Doc Nilo! You’re the best!

The Church of Saint Peter of Alcántara in Páquil. Both Arnaldo and I concur that this is the most handsome church in the whole province of La Laguna. And I bet many will agree with us! Probably even that dog behind me! This will be our tour’s final stop.

“Everything happens for a reason”, Arnaldo reassured me, saying that all the sacrifice that I did for that shelved La Laguna book project really had to happen. Because it was bound to open a new door for us, after all.

I hope he’s right. Hágase la voluntad de Dios.  :-)

Click here to view all photos of our La Laguna road trip last November 2! And for more details of our tour, you may contact us here for the meantime!

¡Viajemos a La Laguna!

Breaking news for the upcoming coffee table book “LA LAGUNA The Heart of the Philippines”…

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It’s now official: renowned historian, scholar, and linguist, Señor Guillermo Gómez y Rivera, will write the foreword to my debut book, LA LAGUNA The Heart of the Philippines!

Meeting last Sunday night (04/07/2013) at J.Boy Japanese Fast Food Shop in Macati City. Man, their noodles there are almost as thick as my fingers! (L-R: me, Ronald Yu of In-Frame Media Works, and Señor Gómez).

To those who do not know yet, Señor Gómez— as he is called by friends, students, admirers, and critics—is currently one of the board of directors of the prestigious Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española, the oldest state institution in the Philippines. From 1971 to 1973, he was the secretary of the National Language Committee of the Philippine Constitutional Convention. For many years, he taught Spanish language and grammar as well as Philippine History, Geography, and Philosophy of Man at Adamson University (my alma mater). In 1974, the Department of Education condecorated him for his work as a teacher and writer with the Plus Ultra Filipinas award. The next year, he won the Premio Zóbel for his play El Caserón, but primarily in recognition for his efforts in preserving the Spanish language and culture in our country. He has since been a longtime master of ceremonies for the said award-giving body until its demise in 1999. Prior to this, Señor Gómez won second place in the Premio Manuel Bernabé for an essay on the historical and nationalistic value and import of the Spanish language in the Philippines.

Señor Gómez has authored many books, among them El Conflicto de Soberanía Territorial Sobre las Islas Malvinas, Georgias, y Sándwich del SurThe Conflict Over Territorial Sovereignty on the Malvinas, Georgias, and Sandwich Islands of the South (Manila, bilingual edition, 1984), FilipinoOrigen y Connotación, y Otros Ensayos (Manila: Ediciones Solidaridad Filhispana-El Maestro, 1966), and various textbooks on Spanish grammar and history such as Español Para Todo El Mundo and Texto Para Español 4-N: La Literatura Filipina y Su Relación al Nacionalismo Filipino (both used in Adamson University and Centro Escolar University). He is also active in Filipino dance and music. He is currently an instructor of various Spanish dances, particularly flamenco (he is in fact considered as the undisputed maestro of Flamenco in the Philippines).

Aside from sharing his knowledge of Flamenco, he has made several researches on Philippine songs, dances, and costumes, especially those of Hispanic influence, which he was able to contribute to the internationally acclaimed Bayanihan Philippine National Folk Dance Company. In fact, most of the Spanish-influenced native songs and dances choreographed by the said group can trace their origins from Gómez’s researches, which earned him an advisory role for Bayanihan. He also released an LP back in 1960 when he was still the producer of La Voz Hispanofilipina, a radio program of DZRH. He made research about “lost” Filipino songs that were originally sung in Castilian during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. He reintroduced the songs through recording. The successful LP was entitled Nostalgia Filipina. He was the one who sang in all of the songs, accompanied by the late Roberto Buena’s rondalla (on 14 August 2006, he relaunched a digitally mastered version of this album at the Instituto Cervantes de Manila through financial support from the Spanish Program for Cultural Cooperation).

In 1997, he was a segment host of ABS-CBN‘s defunct early morning program Alas Singko Y Media. In the said show, he hosted a five-minute Spanish lesson.

In addition to his contributions to Philippine literature, culture, and history, he was also a journalist; he used to publish and edit the El Maestro magazine which served as the organ of the Corporación Nacional de Profesores Filipinos de Español, Inc., and also contributed to various newspapers, magazines, and websites (Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippines Free Press, Revista Filipina, etc.). Aside from the weekly newspapers The Listening Post and The Tagalog Chronicle, he also edited Nueva Era, the only existing Spanish newspaper in the Philippines in modern times (these three, owned by the late Batangueño publisher and businessman Emilio M. Ynciong, were accessible only via subscription; I used to be Señor Gómez’s editorial assistant for these papers, now out of print, from 2001 to 2003).

Señor Gómez is also an accomplished linguist and polyglot. He speaks and writes fluently in his native Hiligaynón as well as in English and Tagalog. Aside from being an acclaimed master of the Spanish language in the country, he is also conversant in Italian, Portuguese, French, Quiniráy-á, Cebuano, Hokkien, and has made an extensive study of the Chabacano and Visayan languages (he was crowned Diutay ñga Príncipe Sg Binalaybáy sa Binisayà at the age of 13).

It is a little known fact that Señor Gómez, although a Bisayà, can also be considered a Lagunense: he traces his Gómez Spanish ancestor to Pagsanján, and has many Rivera relatives in Pila.

Indeed, the writer of the book’s foreword is a virtual heavyweight compared to the lowly writer himself. But hey, I am humbled with all of this. I admit now that is difficult for me to imagine somebody else writing the foreword to my very first book. And if I’m not mistaken, this would be the fourth time that Señor Gómez will write a foreword/introduction for somebody else. The first time he did so was for multi-awarded multilingual poet Federico Espino (Premio Zóbel awardee, 1978) for his bilingual collection of poetry, Ave En Jaula Lírica / Bird in the Lyric Cage (Solidaridad Filipino-Hispana, 1970). The second was for Conchita Huerta (another Premio Zóbel awardee, 1965) for her Arroz y Sampaguitas (Ediciones Fil-Hispanas, 1972), a collection of essays and short stories. And the last he did was for Perspectives in Politics: Public and Foreign (UST Publishing House, 2005) by UNESCO Commissioner and international political analyst José David Lápuz.

This is truly a huge dream come true for me. :D

LA LAGUNA The Heart of the Philippines is a collaboration between the historic Provincial Government of La Laguna (Gov. E.R. Ejército) and In-Frame Media Works (Mr. Ronald Yu).

Book launching will be announced soon! :D

28 July 1571: The story behind the discovery of La Laguna’s foundation date.

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Good day, dear readers, particularly to my fellow Lagunenses. For this blogpost, I am sharing to you the story behind my discovery of our province’s foundation date, as well as the ongoing process of having the date passed as an ordinance (as of this writing, the case is still pending approval). This is a historic find, so I thought that all of you deserve to know about this, especially since there is still no news yet regarding this matter.

Before anything else, please allow me to refer to our province as La Laguna, not just Laguna alone. The article La was removed from Laguna sometime during the US occupation of the Philippines. Since there is no logical reason for its removal, I refuse to address my adoptive province as such. We should always refer to it by its original, complete, and correct name: LA LAGUNA.

The discovery of the date

OK now. Last January, I revealed in my other blog, ALAS FILIPINAS, that I will be writing my first book, a coffee table book actually, about the history and culture of the Province of La Laguna. I even said bye bye for a while in my social media accounts in order to concentrate on my writing. It’s going to be my first book. I don’t want to screw it up. And just a few weeks ago, during our national hero’s birthday, I also announced about something big that will change the history of our province. So here it is, right on this blogpost…

During the course of my research for the said book that I’m writing, I happened to stumble upon the foundation date of La Laguna. I discovered the date just last month, in the morning of 13 June, when I was about to sleep (right after my night shift). My hair was still wet because I just had a morning bath. So while drying it, I grabbed from my bookshelf one source material —a very old one: 1926— and started fumbling through its pages. Then in one of its delicate and yellowing pages, I unexpectedly found the date: 28 julio 1571.

How providential, indeed. Had I slept earlier, I would have never discovered the page/chart where 28 July 1571 appears. And I wasn’t even in full-research mode!

I do not claim to be the first researcher to have encountered this chart. Perhaps other historians before me have seen this already. However, they must have surely overlooked the fact that this chart reveals when La Laguna (and perhaps other Philippine juridical entities today) was established.

This date is important to all Lagunenses, especially to the provincial government. Why? Because up to now, they do not know when their province was founded. This was revealed to me by my editor, Mr. Ronald Yu (publisher/editor/photographer at In-Frame Media Works), a few months ago after a short talk that I had with Biñán City’s tourism officer designate, Ms. Jasmín Alonte, who in turn told me that their city doesn’t have a foundation date too. I found out that this foundation date is a big deal. Ron explained that during the administration of former Governess Teresita “Ningning” Lázaro (2001-2010), a “bounty” was to be awarded to anyone who might find the missing foundation date. There were even individuals who went to some archive in Spain just to search for it, but to no avail. Fast forward to a few weeks ago: I learned from Mr. Peter Uckung of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) that even famed Pagsanjeño historian Gregorio Zaide was also searching for La Laguna’s foundation date, but to no avail.

I never had any serious intention of hunting for that date. If historians already went to Spain looking for it, not to mention the legendary Gregorio Zaide failing to find it, then I thought that there’s no chance for me to be able to come across the date.

The formulation of the case

And so going back to the morning of 13 June when I stumbled upon the date right inside our apartment unit. I actually have a collection of antique Filipiniana which I have gathered over the years (acquired or purchased from antique shops and various individuals who no longer need them), and it is in one of those volumes where I discovered the date. I didn’t even gave it much importance at first glance, especially when the date says that La Laguna was given as an encomienda to Martín de Goití. It didn’t state that La Laguna was a province during the date that the region was accorded to Goití.

But after a few days, it hit me.

After further research, cross-referencing through other books and documents, and much deliberation, I finally came up to the conclusion that 28 July 1571 was indeed the date when La Laguna began. Not exactly as a province but as something else. The analogy is like this: Adamson University, my alma mater, began as the Adamson School of Industrial Chemistry in 1932. It became a university only in 1941. However, 1932 is still regarded as Adamson’s foundation year, not 1941, for the simple reason that Adamson was established on that year. It’s transformation into a university years later never negated the fact that Adamson was already in existence. That was the case of La Laguna. It began as an encomienda in 1571, not exactly as a province. It only became a province, (as observed by Ron), when Bay was made the capital of La Laguna in 1581. But there is no denying the fact that La Laguna already existed, that it was already established. Just like Calambâ City. It became a city only in 2001. But that doesn’t mean that Calambâ never existed before its cityhood.

Ron paid me a visit in my San Pedro home last 17 June to see the antique book where I found the date. After clarifying questions from him and clearing up other arguments, we both found out that the case for La Laguna’s foundation date proved to be strong. Actually, I was already composing a scholarly paper when he visited me since I do not want the date to be misconstrued as just another date in the pages of Philippine history. It wasn’t finished yet when I showed to Ron the draft of the paper.

Reporting the discovery to the governor

Ron confirmed the discovery to Governor Emilio Ramón “E.R.” Ejército, especially since the book that I’m writing is the latter’s project. The governor was very excited upon hearing this. We then presented my discovery to him last 18 June at the Cultural Center of Laguna (during the memorial celebration of Dr. José Rizal‘s 151st birthday). Before speaking with the governor, Ron introduced  me to various Lagunense figures, among them Mr. Uckung, senior researcher at the NHCP, and Hon. Neil Andrew Nocon, provincial board member of La Laguna’s 2nd district. Little did I know that I would be “working” with these people in the coming days.

Afterwards, Dr. Nilo Valdecantos, one of Governor E.R.’s consultants, facilitated our quick meeting with the latter (it’s Governor E.R.’s policy that you fall in queue to speak to him regardless of social standing and whether you’re a government official or just an ordinary civilian). The governor was already weary due to the day’s activities, for right after the 151st José Rizal memorial rites, his weekly “People’s Day” followed. But upon showing to him the old book where La Laguna and the date appears, his energy came back, and admitted to having had goosebumps all over! He was so amazed over the coincidence of the recently concluded La Laguna Festival, which he conceptualized, to what I have discovered. Little did I know that he had no idea that La Laguna was actually the original, complete, and correct name of the province he governs. But then, almost all Lagunenses in particular and Filipinos in general do not know that fact. And so I took that opportunity to tell him that it is perhaps high time to bring back the name. He did not respond to it, probably still elated with the find. He then said that he will endorse it to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan ng Laguna (SPL) to have it filed as a resolution. A few days later, I received a phone call from BM Nocon’s secretary, Ms. Daisy Pelegrina, requesting for documents pertaining to the date. I learned that the filing of the resolution was already on its way. The ordinance was to be authored by BM Nocon since he was the chairman of education, tourism, history, arts and culture, and public works. I told Ms. Pelegrina that I was actually composing a brief dissertation regarding the matter, and that I will just email them the paper once done.

Realizing that the 28th of July is near, Ron advised Governor E.R. that the foundation date would be one of his greatest legacies to his constituents. Therefore, it is best that the province’s very first foundation date be celebrated immediately, especially since it’s going to be election season next year. Midterm legislative and local elections will be held on 13 May 2013. Nobody knows who’s going to win or not. Governor E.R.’s extreme popularity among Lagunenses is not always a guarantee that it will win him another term. That is why it is best that he commemorate La Laguna’s very first foundation day celebration —technically its 441st— the soonest possible time while he is still governor. The governor agreed (later on, he decided to moved his first State of the Province address to 28 July to coincide with the province’s very first foundation day celebration; the SOPA was originally scheduled for August).

Señor Gómez enters the scene

Shortly after finishing my paper, Ron advised me to email the paper to renowned scholar and historian Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera to have it reviewed and validated. Ron was thinking forward: he heard from BM Nocon that the NHCP will have to review and write a recommendation on my discovery before the ordinance could be passed. No disrespect to the NHCP, but both Ron and I somehow felt that the NHCP might write a negative recommendation on my find, as the case might fall on opinionated grounds (a few days later, our hunch proved to be correct). So he thought of having it validated by another neutral party: Señor Gómez. For my editor’s part, he is respectfully questioning whether the NHCP has any authority at all to have a final say whether or not a date should be declared as the province’s foundation date.

Afterwards, we visited the governor’s house (Don Porong Mansion) in Pagsanján on 23 June to personally present to him the scholarly paper which I wrote regarding the La Laguna’s foundation date (PLEASE CLICK HERE to read my dissertation). The next day (coinciding with the Philippines’ 441st anniversary), I received a positive reply from Señor Gómez which he also forwarded to members of the online group Círculo Hispano-Filipino.

¡Enhorabuena Pepe Alas! Has escrito una tesina de primera fuerza porque está muy bien documentada y, sobre todo, porque todo lo que deduces está fuertemente investido con la lógica y el sentido común que todo escritor e historiador de su propio país debe tener. Y es una tesina escrita independientemente porque se levanta por si sóla. Y está escrita magistralmente por un puro filipino como lo eres tu de espíritu y talante. Sugiero que lo pongas todo en español más tarde y lo publiques en tu blog Alas Filipinas. En horabuena de nuevo y un fuerte abrazo. Nos enorgulleces a todos los que te conocemos de cerca.

Afterwards, I also emailed the paper to Ms. Pelegrina for BM Nocon’s reference since it will also serve as an aid of legislation. On the morning of 25 June, I visited Señor Gómez to retrieve from him his signed recommendation letter. I then hurried off to the capitolio in Santa Cruz and met up with Ron to submit an edited version of my paper, Señor Gómez’s recommendation letter, as well as reproductions of the page where the date appears. Mr. Valdecantos again facilitated our quick meeting with the governor, and for that he had a run in with the governor’s arrogant Chief-of-Staff. And while waiting for an audience with the governor, this rude power-tripper actually thought he was funny so he acted like a clown and proceeded to make fun of what I wrote and even questioned Señor Gómez’s reliability (if he had said that in Malacañang, the President himself would have laughed at his total ignorance of Señor Gómez’s persona). But I was glad that I was able to keep my cool (a very difficult task on my part). Anyway, after that unfortunate incident, Ron was finally able to speak with the governor; I was no longer in the mood to speak to Governor E.R. after all the insults that I’ve heard from his “highly respectable” Chief-of-Staff. The governor then informed us that he is endorsing the date not as a resolution but as an ordinance! Earlier that morning (during the weekly flag ceremony), we learned that the governor already announced to all employees about the foundation date, and that they will all receive an annual bonus every 28th of July (amounting at least to ₱3,000 per employee). This, of course, is good tidings for the provincial employees. However, the ordinance will still have to be passed first and foremost in order for the said bonus to take effect. Before leaving the capitol, BM Nocon informed me and Ron that we will all go to the NHCP in Ermita, Manila the next day, together with the governor himself, to report my discovery and request from their office any technical assistance as well as a recommendation and/or guidelines on the legality of declaring 28 July 1571 as La Laguna’s foundation date.

NHCP visit

The next day, an afternoon, we all went to the NHCP. Our party was composed of Governor E.R., his wife (Pagsanján Mayor Maita Ejército), my editor Ron, BM Nocon, Mr. Valdecantos, and other capitolio political consultants. There were actually three agendas: the construction of the country’s first sports museum (to be constructed on the capitolio grounds), the setting up of a historical marker to La Laguna’s old capitol building, and the historic date which I discovered. We were received by NHCP Executive Director Ludovico Bádoy and his staff.

As expected, my discovery was met with opposition. During the meeting, Ron and I had an argument with Mr. Uckung and a colleague of his, Mr. Ogie Encomienda (of all surnames). They argued that the date I discovered cannot be accepted since it does not pertain to La Laguna’s creation as a province. But that wasn’t the case we wanted to present. Our argument is that La Laguna was founded on 28 July 1571, period. Whether or not it was a province, La Laguna began on that date (please see related link above to read my arguments on my paper). Finally, straight from their mouths, they agreed that my paper is correct. However, they just couldn’t accept the fact that La Laguna must recognize its founding as an encomienda. In Mr. Uckung’s opinion, it does not seem to be apt to celebrate La Laguna’s founding as an encomienda because, according to him, the encomienda connoted “slavery”. Good heavens, I thought. These people subscribe to the leyenda negra (as expected). And worse, Mr. Encomienda even suggested to us to just write an ordinance declaring 28 July as the province’s foundation date, but 1571 cannot be recognized as the province’s foundation year because, according to him, it is highly questionable that La Laguna was founded earlier than Manila. To Mr. Encomienda, Manila was founded on 1574! Goodness gracious. Anyway, I refused to argue about that anymore; it’s a different issue and will only prolong the argument. Anyway, the meeting was at a stalemate. Governor E.R. was still excited over the date, and mandated Mr. Uckung to speed up his research to corroborate with my findings. However, right after the argument that we with Mr Uckung and Mr. Encomienda, I already knew right there and then that they will disapprove my discovery.

The SPL hearings

Ron attended the first hearing 27 June which was also attended by Vice Governor Caesar Pérez, various board members, representatives from the budget office, and other political consultants. I wasn’t able to attend because of my night shift. It was during that meeting that Ron hypothesized that La Laguna could have become a province when Bay was declared as the provincial capital on 1581. The problem: the date is still missing up to now. Furthermore, that doesn’t negate the fact that La Laguna already existed, but as a different political/juridical entity.

Two days later, during a meeting of the Laguna Tourism Council (facilitated by Monsignor José D. Barrión) last 29 June held at the Santo Sepulcro Shrine in San Pedro, Mr. Delto “Mike” Abárquez, chief of the Laguna Tourism, Culture, Arts, and Trade Office (LTCATO) announced to the members about the discovery of the province’s foundation date.

Mr. Mike Abárquez, seated at right, during the Laguna Tourism Council 2nd quarter meeting at the Santo Sepulcro Shrine last 29 June 2012 (photo courtesy of Le Voyageur International-Travel.

On 2 July, the date when the ordinance was officially stamped as received by the Office of the SPL, I made my first appearance to the deliberations of the SPL. It was actually the public hearing regarding the ordinance. A lady official from the LTCATO had Mr. Uckung on the line and gave the phone to BM Nocon. The lady official seemed to be a big supporter of NHCP. Ron and I had no idea why. After the phone discussion, the public hearing began. Laguna’s Supervising Tourism Operations Officer, Ms. Regina Austria, was also in attendance. I explained my case to the panel and also gave a brief lecture about what an encomienda is, and how this encomienda metamorphosed into a province (limited only to the case of La Laguna; probably not all provinces began as an ancomienda). BM Nocon also revealed that he had already distributed my scholarly paper to all municipal and city governments throughout La Laguna, as well as various educational institutions in the province which of course includes the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).

The plot thickens

The next day, I was with San Pedro Mayor Calixto Catáquiz and his friends in Rockwell, Macati discussing with him his biography which is still in developmental limbo. Ron sent me a rather alarming txt message: an anonymous person was heckling him on his cellphone, ridiculing him for his ardent participation on the 28 July 1571 issue. We already have a suspect. But why was she doing it?! I mean, what for?

The next day after that, on 4 July, there was another brief hearing at the capitolio. I wasn’t able to attend due to lack of sleep (imagine doing all this while working at night!), but Ron was able to attend. LTCATO chief, Mr. Abárquez, was also there. He assisted Ron in defending the merits of the date.

Three vs one

Finally, last Friday, 6 July, I had another showdown with the NHCP right inside the Governor’s Office. The governor, however, was absent during the proceedings. Unfortunately, Ron wasn’t with me during that time (he had a fever). There were three of them (Mr. Uckung, Mr. Encomienda, and another one whose I wasn’t able to get) against my lonesome self. Mr. Encomienda this time, had a different tune: instead of arguing that it cannot be accepted that La Laguna came first before Manila (which is erroneous because Manila was founded as the capital of the Philippines by the Spaniards on 24 June 1571), he instead referred to his notes and said that he had found another data stating that La Laguna was founded as an encomienda in 1572, not in 1571. He now forwarded the problem on how to “synchronize” both 1571 and 1572. But the answer to that is rather simple: choose the earliest date, for crying out loud. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to say that, since I have not yet verified his finding. He mentioned to me both Manuel Buzeta and Félix de Huerta as his sources. Well, I have Buzeta’s Diccionario Geográfico-Estadístico-Histórico de las Islas Filipinas (co-authored with Felipe Bravo) at home. I reviewed it last night and found no mention of 1572 pertaining to La Laguna at all. I’m still to review Félix de Huerta’s Estado Geográfico, Topográfico, Estadístico, Histórico-Religioso de la Santa y Apostólica Provincia de San Gregorio Magno. But regardless of whether or not the year 1572 also points to the founding of La Laguna as an encomienda, common sense will still dictate that the earliest year declared must be considered, especially if there is basis. In this case, it’s 1571.  Although I understand that Buzeta and Huerta’s respective books were published way before Fr. Pablo Pastells’ book (my source) was even conceptualized, one should not focus on the book’s year of publication alone. Fr. Pastells did not simply write 28 July 1571, as was the case with what Buzeta and Huerta did. Fr. Pastells’ chart itself was a primary source that was taken from the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain. The chart itself that was used by Fr. Pastells was an official document whose authenticity can never be questioned.

Also present during the meeting was UPLB professor Dwight David Diestro, co-author of the book Nineteenth-Century Conditions and the Revolution in the Province of LagunaHe had read my paper and actually supported my discovery. But he also stated his opinion that if it were him, he would rather recognize the date when La Laguna became independent from Spain. I argued, however, that independence is different from being established as a political entity. Then the mention of the encomienda again as a form of slavery was raised, until the discussion came to a point that I was already defending Spain’s “creation” of the Philippines. A very debatable matter, Mr. Uckung retorted, to which I had to agree so as not to swerve from the main issue.

The questionable case of Pangasinán’s foundation date

But I believe that I won that round. Why?

At the end of the meeting, I respectfully questioned NHCP’s “authority to meddle” in the ordinance proceedings because of the Pangasinán case which was researched by Ron a few days prior (You may read the whole account of the case here). It turned out that La Laguna has a similar case to that of Pangasinán. In Pangasinán’s case, it was also founded as an encomienda: on 5 April 1572. Later on, it was organized into a province in 1580, but the exact date is missing up to now. After thorough deliberations on the researches made by members of the committee, it was finally decided to just mix up the dates: 5 April 1580 was then declared as the foundation date of Pangasinán. Not only is it highly questionable. It was also laughable and illogical. How come the NHCP let this historical travesty go away just like that? It reminded me of Mr. Encomienda’s suggestion to us when we were at the NHCP, that July 28 can be be passed as an ordinance, but not 1571. So is he suggesting that we do another Pangasinán?

I really told them, but in a respectful tone, that Pangasinán’s case was mangled, and that I will never allow the same error to happen to my beloved province in case they’re planning to do the same. They all kept quiet.

Sadly, nothing was concluded. BM Nocon still awaits that recommendation from the NHCP. He then said that the next meeting will be on Friday the 13th.

And so my fight continues.

Before I end this narrative —and I hope that the people over at the NHCP reads this—, I would like to remind all of you that whether or not this ordinance is passed, it will not make me famous like Myrtle Sarrosa. It will not even make me rich. Perhaps I might receive some sort of recognition, but I am not expecting it. Besides, I’m sure that most of the credit will go to Governor E.R. and BM Nocon. But that’s OK. I am doing this not for myself, anyway. Not even for the governor. No matter how corny this may sound to all of you, I am doing this for the province of La Laguna. Aunque no lo creáis. Because this will give me and all Lagunenses the satisfaction of priding ourselves with a complete history of our province.

At walá pong mawáwala sa aquin cung hindí maipápasa ang ordenanzang itó. Who’s going to lose? Me? My credibility? No. Never. The biggest loser here will still be the people of La Laguna who will forever miss this chance of celebrating the province’s birthday.

So many things have happened since I discovered the date. It was a whirlwind experience. The coffee table book that I’m writing for the governor was even put to a halt to focus on the ordinance. But I will have to continue writing the book starting today. And whatever happens, 28 July 1571 will always remain as La Laguna’s foundation date. It began as an encomienda, whether we like it or not, which later on metamorphosed into a province probably in 1581.  And this logical FACT will appear in the coffee table book which will be launched before the year ends. So there.

He dicho.


Draft ORDINANCE NO. 44 , s. 2012





Author: Hon. Neil Andrew N. Nocon

Whereas, Laguna has been in existence for many centuries already but has failed to commemorate and celebrate its inception due to the lack of a founding date;

Whereas, since the Philippines has been declared independent on 4 July 1946, the Tagalog-speaking province of La Laguna, now simply referred to as Laguna, in the CALABARZON region is still incognizant of when exactly it came into being;

Whereas, it has become an important tradition for almost all individuals, organizations, and territorial units (places) to commemorate how they first came to be;

Whereas, no official declaration or any royal decree has been made affirming the creation or existence of Laguna as a province consisting of several reducciones or towns;

Whereas, research findings revealed that Laguna was founded as a juridical entity on 28 July 1571;

Whereas, this date appears in volume 2 of Fr. Pablo Pastells, S.J.’s Historia General de Filipinas which was published in Barcelona, Spain in 1926;

Now, therefore, upon motion, be it resolved, as it is hereby resolved by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Laguna in a session assembled that:


Section 02. Definition of Terms — for purpose of this ordinance, the following terms are defined as follows:

a. commemorate – to call to remembrance, to mark by some ceremony or observation.

b. incognizant – lacking knowledge or awareness, unaware of the new political situation.

c. juridical – of or relating to the law and its administration.

d. reducción – a colonially designed resettlement policy that the Spaniards (the friars in particular) used in Central and South America.

e. rekindle – to inflame again, to rouse anew.

f. reminisce – a narration of past incidents with one’s personal experience, that which  is recollected or recalled to mind.

g. reverently – showing deep sense of respect.

h. unheeded – unnoticed or disregarded.

Section 03. Objectives of this Ordinance.

1. To help establish the founding date of Laguna because this province has been in existence for many centuries already but has failed to commemorate and celebrate its inception due to the lack of a foundation date.

2. To officially declare 28 July 1571 as the founding date of Laguna and relative to its celebration, request the Provincial Governor for the provision of funds thereof.

Section 04. Information, Education, and Communication Campaign. Upon approval of this Ordinance, the province shall conduct massive information, education, and communication campaigns using quad media (print, radio, television, and internet) in the conduct of rekindling this foundation date.

Section 05. Deputation of Officials. All municipal and city officials are automatically deputized by the Provincial Governor for the strict and effective implementation of this ordinance.

Section 06. Mandate. The government through the Laguna Tourism, Culture, Arts, and Trade Office is hereby mandated to provide a program wherein activities shall be implemented for one day celebration which shall commence every 28th day of July of every year/s ahead.

Section 07. Implementation. This Ordinance shall be implemented right after the date of its approval.

Section 08. Separability Clause. If any part of this ordinance is declared juridically as unconstitutional or unlawful, such declaration shall not affect the other parts or sections hereof that are not declared unlawful or unconditional.

Section 09. Repealing Clause. All previous ordinance inconsistent with this ordinance shall be deemed repealed or modified accordingly.

Section 10. Effectivity. This Ordinance shall take effect upon its approval from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

APPROVED: ??????

LA LAGUNA The Festival of Life (booths of towns and cities)

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LA LAGUNA The Festival of Life 2012. Featuring photos of all the beautifully decorated booths of each town and city of the cultural-conscious province of La Laguna (only Majayjay did not participate; I still have to find out why). Each booth showcases its respective town and city’s identity — products, festivities, cottage industries, and tourist attractions. So, without further adieu, feast your eyes on these…

First District

The Sampaguita Capital of the Philippines

The Home of the Famous Puto Biñán

The Lion City of the South

Second District

The Town of the Legendary Golden Bell

The Hometown of the National Hero

Special Science and Nature City of the Philippines

The First Capital of Laguna

Third District

The Duck Raising Center of the Philippines

Home of the Sweetest Pineapple

The City of Seven Lakes

The Home of the Coramblan Festival*

Tayak Adventure and Nature Park

Site of the Nagcarlán Underground Cemetery Historical Landmark

The Footwear Capital of Laguna

Fourth District

La Noble Villa de Pila

The Capital of Laguna

The Bamboo Capital of Laguna

The Pandán Capital of Laguna

Laguna’s Ecotourism Capital

The Tourist Capital of Laguna

The Embroidery Capital of the Philippines

Laguna’s Symbol of Peace and Unity

The Woodcarving Capital of the Philippines

Home of the Turumba Festival

Home of the Nuestra Señora de la O and the Santo Niño de la O



Waterfalls Sanctuary of Laguna

The Home of Bamboo Weavers

The Site of the Fabled Battle of Mabitac

The Rice Granary of Laguna

Today, by the way, is the last day of festivities. Click here for the schedule. And for more of the festival’s day one (21 April 2012) photos, click here.

Congratulations to La Laguna Governor E.R. Ejército, his team, and to all Lagunenses for this splendid event!


**COconut, RAMbután, and LANzones

Pagsanján — Bangkero, Lahát ay Masayá (music video)

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We often hear of celebrities, usually movie and TV actors, running for public office. And if they ever win, their acting stops there. Naturally. Their craft has no place in the higgledy-piggledy world of politics.

But Pagsanján Mayor Girlie “Maita” Ejército beats them all: she makes use of her craft that has been in the back burner for years.

Not many people today know that she used to be an actress back in the 90s. Once known as Maita Sánchez, she wasn’t as popular during that time compared to her contemporaries because she usually played minor roles, as a character actress, much like her now esteemed husband, La Laguna Governor Emilio Ramón “E.R.” Ejército (son of the late actor George Estregan and nephew of former president Joseph Estrada). She was further relegated to obscurity when she became a full-time housewife (a mother to four children), hiding under the shadows of her relatively well-known husband who, like her, played supporting roles and cameo appearances. Using various screen names from Jorge Estregan to George Estregan, Jr., Governor Ejército’s salad days in cinema wasn’t that delectable as well to moviegoers for he usually accepted roles as a notorious villain in many action films.

But it was during their later years when they achieved mainstream success albeit in a different industry. The movie villain changed his one-dimensional persona and somehow managed to make himself one of the best and efficient mayors in the entire history of Pagsanján. When his term came to an end, he ran for a higher position, winning the gubernatorial seat by a landslide in the last 2010 general election.

Governor E.R. wasn’t the only Ejército who was victorious during that election year; his wife stood tall beside him. Breaking out from obscurity, Mayora Maita (as she is fondly called nowadays) successfully snatched the mayoralty seat of the same town that her husband had administered for a full nine years (2001-2010). Aside from other duties as a public servant, she now continues various projects and programs which were started by her husband. One of these projects is the annual Bangkero Festival, a tribute to the boatmen of Pagsanján (Bumbuñgan) River.

The “Pagsanján Bangkero Festival” is held every first week of March. The Tagalog term bangkero pertains to the people whose job is to provide transportation over sea or river through a bangka (boat). Welcoming summer, every first week of March, Pagsanján, Laguna celebrates its Pagsanján Bangkero Festival and is fast becoming popular through its lined-up exciting events on both land and water such as the Palarong Bangkero, street dancing contest for students from different schools dressed in colorful costumes swaying to the upbeat music, drum and lyre band competition, choralefest cultural night, trade fair, sports events, and many more.
—From the town’s official website

Actually, the spelling should be banquero; but what the hey, my animosity against today’s mangled orthography will have no place in this blogpost at the moment. :D) Anyway, as I was saying…

And then came last year’s multi-awarded action-art flick Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story. Governor Ejército won not only the prestigious Best Actor’s Award in the recently concluded Star Awards for Movies last 14 March, he also inadvertently won an audience who is not in-the-know about the province he is governing whenever he is away from the glitter of showbiz (trivia: some scenes from Manila Kingpin were shot in Pagsanján).

Last month’s Bangkero Festival (March 27-31) was extra special — a music video entitled Bangkero, Lahát ay Masayá was launched during the five-day event. Created by prolific TV/music video director Louie Ignacio, the music video is another lasting tribute to the sturdy boatmen of Pagsanján River who bring excited tourists to a pulse-pounding ride of their lives to catch a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of the world-famous Pagsanján Falls tucked deep in the forests of nearby Cavinti.

This medium is one-of-a-kind because, to the best of my memory, this is the only music video which serves as a town’s promotional material and at the same time the performing artist is none other than that town’s chief executive herself! And yes, Mayora Maita can sing, even hitting that coveted high note, her voice effortlessly joining the mellifluous yet upbeat tune that was composed by prolific songwriter Marizen Yaneza.

In the words of Ronald Yu (publisher/editor/photographer at In-Frame Media Works), this music video will serve as a benchmark for other municipalities and cities who might take that extra step to promote their respective turfs’ tourist attractions (I try to imagine Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim belching out a tune to promote Intramuros, and then I start to weep). Why, it’s not everyday that you’ll encounter your town/city mayor doing a catchy music video for the sake of their town’s local heritage. :D

This is simply pure genius.

Check out the awesome video below!

Artist: Pagsanján Mayor Girlie “Maita” Ejército
Composer: Marizen Yaneza
Director: Louie Ignacio

Watch out for cameo appearances of Governor E.R. Ejército and the holy image of the town’s patroness, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.


This music video is being blogged in celebration of LA LAGUNA The Festival of Life whose soft opening falls today. Come celebrate with us and enjoy La Laguna’s best!

Watch out for Mayora’s next video. It’s guaranteed to give you an idea of how María Maquiling looks like! ;-)


“(La) Laguna is the number one province and best place to visit, to invest in, and to live in.”
—Philippine Information Agency—

A novena prayer for my dearly departed abuela, Srª Dñª Norma Évora y Bonilla vda. de Alas

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My dearly beloved grandmother, Nanay Norma (1930-2011), is finally reunited with her one and only true love, Tatay Godofredo “Godò” Alas y Sarmiento (1925-1997). They are now in Good Hands, a place where there is no more pain nor sadness, only true and eternal bliss.

My abuela passed away last night —on my dad’s 59th birthday— at 11:38 PM in Makati Medical Center (MICU 7). She should have been 81 this May 3rd. But God is merciful: He didn’t allow for my grandmother to suffer any further. He even gave her just enough strength to be with my dad on his birthday.

The pain of losing a loved one, a matriarch, is something that is almost unbearable. Nonetheless, we are glad that Nanay Norma is no longer in pain, that she is now with Tatay Godò, that both of them are reunited with the Lord…

I will write more details about this sad event in the coming days. In the meantime, please do join the Alas and Évora clans in prayer during this moment of great grief.

Mi abuelo Godò y abuela Norma. Foto sacada durante nuestra vacación en Pagsanján, La Laguna, circa 1997.

Let us now offer this novena prayer for our beloved Nanay Norma E. Alas who has departed from this world and now returns to you.
O Lord, in your mercy welcome her into your heavenly kingdom.
She has gone to her rest.
Now, she hopes to rise with you.
O Lord, in your encompassing love, bring her into the light of your Divine Presence.

We meekly intercede, O Lord, for our faithful departed Nanay Norma.
May she find eternal peace with you.
May she inherit your kind forgiveness.
May she see you face to face.
Yes, you are our hope in this world.
You are our resurrection and life.
You are our Judge and Savior.

O Lord, we humbly beseech you: be merciful in your judgment and grant to Nanay Norma the promised salvation.
Remember not her faults, but cleanse her of her sins and grant her lasting reward.
O Lord, extend to Nanay Norma your victory over sin and death.
Let her not be separated from you, but grant her a place in your eternal abode.

Jesus, Lord of the living and the dead, comfort of the weary and the afflicted, conqueror of death and sin, guide our departed Nanay Norma.
As she reaches the end of her journey, lead her back to you.
As her life comes to an end, let her live with you.
As she stands before you in judgment, please speak again these words:

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you.”

May the good Lord grant her a merciful judgment and look kindly upon her.

ALL: Lord, help us see death for what it really is:

—the end of poverty and the beginning of riches:
—the end of frustration and the beginning of fulfillment;
—the end of fear and the beginning of tranquility;
—the end of pain and the beginning of joy;
—the end of weakness and the beginning of strength.

Let not grief overwhelm us or a sense of loss embitter us, but out of our sadness let there arise a new joy.

Cast out our fears and let not our hearts be troubled.
Let your spirit of peace come alive within our experience and hurt, our sorrow and isolation, our sadness today and loneliness tomorrow.

We humbly commend to you, Nanay Norma, whom you called out of this mortal life.
You loved her always with a great love.

Now that you have freed her from all the evils of this earth, bring her into your paradise where there is no more grief or mourning or sadness, but peace and joy with your Son and the Holy Spirit forever.

We thank you for all the blessings you have given to Nanay Norma in her mortal life.
We pray that she may be able to glorify you with the life she lived and the way he made use of your blessings.

Lord, grant that we will never forget that life is short and uncertain.
Let your Spirit guide us in holiness, justice, and service to our brothers and sisters.

We pray for the healing of all unhappy and hurting feelings death may have caused in our hearts.
Be with us, Lord, during our moments of sorrow and loneliness.
You are our rock, our fortress, and our strength.

We trust in you and hope in your glorious resurrection.
We lift up to you our grief and sorrow, confident that you Hill change mourning to rejoicing that our beloved now rests in your peace.

L: Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord.
A: And let perpetual Light shine upon her.
L: May she rest in peace.
A: Amen.
L: May the soul of Nanay Norma and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
A: Amen.


Prayer taken from Straight From The Heart… A Prayer Companion by “healing priest” Fr. Mario José C. Ladra (pp. 321-326, St Pauls Publications, 2007).


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