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

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

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

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

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La Laguna Lakeshore Tour (dry run)

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FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES & WITH ONE’S PAST present: La Laguna Lakeshore Tour (dry run)! Image design by NCCA’s León.

We prayed for sunny skies. And we got more than what we bargained for. The weather wasn’t just fine during the dry run of our La Laguna Lakeshore Tour venture last November 16 — it was literally dry. So dry it was I thought summer swapped months with the cold season! Nevertheless, we were thankful for the cooperative weather because we were able to enjoy fully our walkathon of our selected lakeshore towns.

As discussed in a podcast two Sundays ago, me and Mr. With One’s Past are planning of making a guided tour of La Laguna Province. To start the ball rolling, we thought of doing a dry run scheduled for November 16, another Sunday. And since the only marketing tool we have at the moment is social media, we thought of publicizing about the dry run in Facebook and Twitter. Arnaldo doesn’t have a personal Facebook account, so I did most of the announcing (with some help from wifey). Those I had in mind were our former colleagues from APAC Customer Services (Los Ángeles Times account). I wrote a post about it on my wall, then tagged people left and right as I was not really expecting a lot to join. Surprisingly, many showed interest, even those outside of our LAT circle of friends. Even some members of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts confirmed their attendance which was a positive sign.

The only problem is that we were unprepared for that overwhelming reception. Logistics became a problem. Arnaldo wasn’t able to find a cheap but comfortable ride. So we had to content ourselves with his car which could only fit a maximum of four to five passengers. Good thing that one of his friends, a former subordinate of his, volunteered to bring his own car which could carry five more. We then had to limit our number of guests, trimming them down to eight (which included a five-year-old girl). Grudgingly, we had to turn down many others who had wanted to join.

On the eve of the tour, Arnaldo dropped by our place to make more plans on how we are going to conduct the tour. It was drizzling the whole day; we were so thankful that, on the next day, we woke up to sunny skies. Our prayers were answered.

Meeting place was at Alabang, Muntinlupà (at the firestation near Festival Supermall). The exciting part is that all of those who were to meet us do not know each other. And me and Arnaldo do not know all of them, either. Three were from the NCCA: Rei, León, and Myra (well, she used to be). The other one is Cuya Joey, a former colleague of mine from APAC’s Unicare account who blogs at Manila Labyrinth. The one who brought a car was Jemuel. Jemuel brought with him two friends of his: former colleague Teng who in turn tagged along her little daughter Amara, and Ruel who is also a history buff.

After some quick introductions and debriefing about the tour, we boarded our rides. Me and Krystal (who served as our photographer) rode in Jemuel’s car with his group while the rest joined Arnaldo’s. We all left at around 8:00 AM and then arrived at the Rizal Shrine in Calambâ in less than an hour. What greeted us there was unexpected from a usually slow Sunday morning at the town proper — hordes of high school students delivered by huge buses! It somehow dampened my momentum because I was already revved up for what I was about to say during the tour of the house. There was a quick change of plan; we proceeded to the town church first to show them where exactly the National Hero was baptized.

Iglesia de San Juan Bautista (Calambâ).

We returned to the shrine a few minutes later, but the hundreds of students who were still lined up towards the entrance were crammed like MRT passengers during rush hour. Since we were not part of the field trip, we gained easy access. But the noise, not to mention the heat because of so many people, made me dizzy and uncomfortable. I’ve never seen so many people at the Rizal Shrine, even during those Rizal Day ceremonies that I have attended in the past. Fortunately, we survived. I was still able to explain to them the parts of a bahay na bató, with Arnaldo pitching in from time to time. Outside the shrine, both of us gave more interesting historical tidbits about the “Hometown of the National Hero“.

José Rizal Shrine (Calambâ). From left to right: Ruel, Jemuel, Teng with her daughter Amara, León, Arnaldo, me, Myra, Rei, and Cuya Joey.

Our next stop was for lunch. Surprisingly, traffic was a breeze at the national highway near the UPLB area. Then we realized that it was a Sunday. We arrived at Victoria and dined at the curiously named Itlog Ni Kuya. The theme of this quaint restaurant by the sleepy highway complements the town’s nickname as the “Duck Raising Center of Filipinas” since they serve Victoria’s delicacies: ducks, duck eggs, quail, and related products. Here one can find the best-tasting salted eggs (itlóg na pulá): not too salty nor greasy, but tasty still.

Itlog Ni Kuya (Victoria).

Hearty lunch stopover at the country’s duck raising center.

After a nice meal and some pleasantries, we drove straight to “La Noble Villa de Pila“, the only Lagunense town declared as a National Historical Landmark mainly because of its well-preserved and conserved picturesque ancestral homes and baroque church, all left unscathed —in somewhat miraculous fashion— during the last war which heavily damaged many other towns in the province (thus one reason why Pileños proudly proclaim their town as “Bayang Pinagpalà“).

Both Victoria and Pila have a shared history because the former used to be a part of the latter. In fact, the original town of Pila used to be located in present-day Victoria. The ruins of the original church of Pila can still be seen in Victoria’s Barrio Pagalañgan. All this I explained to them like a boss. Kinda.

Giving a brief background about the beautiful heritage town of Pila.

Iglesia de San Antonio de Padua (Pila).

The NCCA folks and Teng are so amused by Casa Hipólito Rivera’s creative attempt on adaptive reuse. Almost all ancestral homes in Pila are well-preserved, many of which have been turned into business establishments, but without any major alterations done to the houses’ physical features.

After a fun photo-ops around Pila’s picturesque town plaza, we proceeded to nearby Pagsanján, the “Tourist Capital of La Laguna“, so-called mainly because of Bumbuñgan River’s exciting rapids that lead towards the world-famous Pagsanján Falls (which is actually within the territory of Cavinti). But there are more reasons as to why Pagsanján merits this lofty title. One of them is this antique stone arch.

That’s me, Jemuel, and Ruel by the Puerta Real (Royal Gate).

Known as the “Puerta Real” (Royal Gate), this stone arch is made entirely out of adobe with carabao milk and lime used for mortar. It was constructed from 1878 to 1880 and was inaugurated in 1894 by Pedro Paterno, a contemporary of Rizal, who wrote the first Filipino novel entitled “Nínay”. Paterno later became the province’s representative (first district) to the first Philippine Assembly from 1907 to 1909.

The last time I gave this arch a closer look was almost three years ago. It still looked OK back then. But last Sunday, while inspecting the arch with Jemuel and Ruel, I sensed that something was wrong with it. After checking it out closely, I noticed that it was recently coated with cement finish! This unwise move appears to have just happened recently.  This is not good because cement is harmful to adobe. And worse, the historical marker was no longer there!

My golly. Whoever ordered this double desecration of Puerta Real ought to be poured with fresh cement.

Anyway, after that sad discovery, we drove past the arch and slowly passed through “Calle Real” (Royal Road), another one of Pagsanján’s gems. Left and right are handsomely preserved ancestral homes, many of which are older than one’s great grandparents. At the end of that engaging road is the white-painted town church. But before visiting it, Arnaldo thought it best to first visit the semi-abandoned house of the ancestors of our esteemed historian friend, Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera.

At the rooftop of the semi-abandoned Casa Gómez, familiarizing our guests with Pagsanján’s geography. One of the earliest settlers, if not the founder, of this house was Francisco Gómez, a 17th-century “alférez” (sub-lieutenant) of Pagsanján who married an india (native) by the name of María Dimaculañgan. Two of their descendants were Premio Zóbel winners: Guillermo Gómez Windham (the first person to have won the prestigious award) in 1922, and our personal friend Guillermo Gómez Rivera in 1975.

It was Arnaldo’s idea to include this in the itinerary, something which I agreed to. Admittedly, this bahay na bató is not tourist material. While some of its old features are still intact, most are already dilapidated. The stairway’s balustrade was said to have been stolen, which I doubt (I suspect it was sold). The “yacál” flooring is already in bad shape. The window panels were no longer in place. The ceiling was a mess. Several informal settlers already live within the house, having made a home out of each “dormitorio“. The purpose of the visit was to instill awareness or an “awakening” among our guests about how today’s generation treat their ancestral homes. Because this kind of treatment often happens in many ancestral houses, most especially in Metro Manila and in surrounding provinces. Such a house in this condition seems out of place in a beautiful heritage town like Pagsanján whose many ancestral houses remain intact and livable.

Afterwards, we walked towards the town church. It’s just nearby since Casa Gómez is right behind it.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Pagsanján).

After exploring the interiors of the church, we walked towards the riverbank which is just a few steps away. The area we went to is where the terminal of the “banqueros” (boatmen of the Pagsanján Rapids) are located. It is the perfect spot to bring tourists in order for them not just to know but to see the origin of the town’s name.

The name Pagsanján originated from the word “pinágsañgahan” which means “branching out” because, coming from Laguna de Bay’s eastern bay to the north, the Lumbán River branches out (“nagsásañga“) into two: Bumbuñgan River to the left which leads straight to the world-famous falls, and Balanac River to the right which goes through the town of Magdalena (see photo below). Before the Spanish advent, Chinese traders often landed in this area where they traded their wares with the natives.

Pagsanján is actually a “bonus” to our lakeshore tour because it is not situated beside Laguna de Bay. It is a landlocked municipality, surrounded by Lumbán to the north, Cavinti to the east, Santa Cruz to the west, and Magdalena to the south.  Its only direct connection to the lake is Lumbán River which it shares with the Municipality of Lumbán. In history, Pagsanján was a mere visita or barrio of Lumbán during Spanish times.

Speaking of Lumbán, “The Embroidery Capital of Filipinas” was next on our itinerary. It was already past three in the afternoon, little Amara was weary, and we were way behind our itinerary. That’s why we decided to stay at Lumbán’s town proper only for a short time. In fact, the impromptu plan was to just drive by the church. But Arnaldo decided to drop off altogether. At the grassy town plaza between the church and the Lumbán River, we gave our guests a brief historical background of the town as well as other interesting tidbits (the lumbán tree, the Laguna Copperplate Inscription, etc.).

Iglesia de San Sebastián el Mártir (Lumbán).

When I shared to them that my kids had an exciting time at the rooftop of the church last January, Cuya Joey wanted to climb as well. Unfortunately, we were running out of time. We really had to leave for the next town. Maybe next time, Cuya Joey. But by then, you will have to pay us and sign that very important waiver so that I can finally push you off from any bell tower we’d climb (insert evil laughter here). 😀

Arnaldo and myself sharing historical tidbits about Lumbán. Although we do not employ theatrics and comedy in our tour, we try our best to make what we share as interesting and as accurate as possible but with occasional wit and laughter.

Hurriedly afterwards, we went to Paeté, “The Carving Capital of Filipinas“. Our first stop was the town church. We parked in front of the municipal hall (Teng had to be left behind because Amara was already taking a nap). While walking towards the patio to view the church’s renowned façade, I told the guests to follow me and not to look at the façade just yet. They were wondering why. Several meters away from the façade, I climbed a concrete planter box (a note to environmentalists: no plants or animals were harmed during the dry run of our tour). I told the rest to join me. Upon climbing, I then told them that they can finally turn around to look at the church. They were all astounded with the view…

Iglesia de Santiago Matamoros (Paeté).

I always recommend that very spot whenever viewing the church of Paeté. When I brought Krystal here last November 2, I bid her to do the same. She’s been hearing so much from me about this spectacular view of the churchc. That’s why she was excitedly obedient when I told her not to look at the church until she had climbed the concrete planter box. She couldn’t contain the excitement and glee on her face when she finally saw the splendid vista. Indeed, Paeté Church is best viewed from this distance because it includes Monte Humaráp behind it, thus giving out a picturesquely breathtaking effect.

The centuries-old paintings of José Luciano Dans inside Paeté Church.

At Paeté Church, we had time to climb the bell tower since that town was our penultimate stop, anyway. Jemuel and I accompanied bell-tower freak Cuya Joey up the campanario (it was just my second time up there). From the bell tower, one can have a 360° view of the town. Up there, the vista of the town’s multicolored houses, of Mount Humaráp’s lush greenery, and of Laguna de Bay’s sparkling eastern bay, coupled with a strong, fresh breeze, is simply indescribable. It makes you want to scream and be stoic at the same time.

Photo courtesy of Jemuel.

However, it is not advisable to climb up the tower without proper supervision — my supervision to be exact, haha. But seriously, the wooden ladder inside the bell tower is already ancient and rickety. And outside the dome, the terrace is very low, making it scary to walk or even stand upright. That is why if you want to experience the euphoria that this height offers, you will have to book a tour with us.

Only boring people will get tired of visiting Paeté’s cultural landmark: Kape Kesada Art Gallery. This place also serves coffee, including the expensive Kopi Luwak. With us is Bevs, the friendly owner‘s trusted assistant.

We also passed by the popular Kape Kesada Art Gallery where we had some freshly brewed coffee. Too bad our friend Dr. Nilo Valdecantos, the owner of the place, was away to attend to some urgent matter. I was hoping that he would deliver a Tagalog ode to our group, hehe. But his trusted girl Friday Bevs was there to attend to us. Some of the group also strolled around Calle Quesada to shop for some woodwork. A lady vendor selling quesong putî (a delicacy of Lumbán and Santa Cruz) also dropped by to sell her wares. Two woodcarvers were working on a bulky piece of wood, trying to fashion out of it perhaps a dog. We also saw two caucasians who sat in front of the gallery drinking beer. Culang na lang si Vice President Bínay.

During our coffee break, we had an open forum and asked our guests about their opinion of this La Laguna Lakeshore Tour that we are planning to launch sometime in January 2015. We asked them if they have any complaints, suggestions, etc. It was a lively discussion which helped us see avenues for improvement. For instance, Arnaldo opened up an interesting question to the group: should we still include Casa Gómez in the itinerary? Many in the group honestly find it uninteresting. But Ruel pointed out that if we could only tour future guests in a live ancestral house, i.e., not “artificial” like the Rizal Shrine in Calambâ, prior to entering Pagsanján, then that might add more interest towards our objective (instilling concern towards ancestral homes). Our guests should be able to enter a living ancestral house prior to entering a dying one in order to stir in them the sentiment that we want them to realize. Ruel said that he heard of a house in Pila that is open to tourists, but he couldn’t recall which house. Me and Arnaldo will have to trouble ourselves about that in the coming weeks.

Everybody pitched in their suggestions, possible scenarios, tour rates, etc. Even Bevs gave her thoughts about the tour. We are so grateful to all of you guys!

My daughter Krystal embracing a giant pencil, probably carved out from coco lumber. There are more or less 80 woodcraft factories in Paeté, with the more famous ones found along Calle Quesada at the town proper. The industry provides 70% of the population’s livelihood.

After Paeté, our last stop was Páquil (even at gunpoint I will never spell it as Pakil). Teng had to wake up Amara since it was our last stop. Besides, everybody in our group should see the marvelous façade that was designed by Bartolomé Palatino, the same Paeteño who designed the façade of nearby Paeté Church.

Páquil is known as the “Home of the Turumba Festival“, the longest fiesta in the country and probably in all of Christendom. This festival is held seven times a year, beginning on a Friday before Holy Week up to the seventh Sunday after Easter as well as during the town’s fiesta on May 12 (Fiesta Paquileña) and the feast day of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15, the same date when the first Turumba was held (15 September 1788).

The church was filled when we got there (at half past five). Before some photo-ops, Arnaldo gathered all of our guests at the plaza fronting the church. There I explained to them that the central figure of the Turumba Festival is a painting of the Virgin Mary locally known as Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Turumba. This mysterious work of art (9″ x 11″ oil painting on canvas) is now enshrined in its own chapel on the second floor of the convent. I said mysterious because its origin is up to now shrouded in mystery. According to local legend, the framed painting was seen floating in Laguna de Bay by fishermen. They were able to tow it towards the shore but the framed painting was so heavy, the locals could not even lift it. News of this discovery immediately spread throughout town. They called the parish priest who was surprised to recognize that the natives have just discovered a painting of Our Lady of Sorrows. The priest then cited the Litaniae Sanctorum as the people started singing and dancing out of joy and awe around the mysterious painting. Miraculously, after another attempt of lifting it, the people at last were able to do so. And as they triumphantly carried the painting towards the church, they were singing songs of praise while dancing, with the ladies joyfully clacking their “baquiâ” (wooden clogs) along the way. Thenceforth, the image was referred to as “Turumba”.

NCCA’s Rei asked a good question: what in the world does “Turumba” mean? I told him that according to the late National Artist Alejandro Roces, it could have been derived from two words: “turò” which means “to point”, and “umbáy” which is a dirge sung by sick people. I added, though, that this may all be just an etymological speculation on the part of Roces. In short, nobody really knows what Turumba means.

Iglesia de San Pedro de Alcántara (Páquil).

The façade turns into reddish-gold as the rays of the setting sun envelops it.

Before leaving Páquil, Arnaldo and I directed their attention towards the façade of the church not just to marvel at its intricate designs of Renaissance and Egyptian influences but also to see the splendid reddish-gold glow caused by the setting sun. Probably no amount of photography would be able to capture this effect. But we’re willing to bring you here just to experience it!

We left a few minutes before six in the evening, weary but satisfied. It was a fulfilling experience, at least for my part, to share knowledge about the province I love, and to tour them around it. I’ve been to these beautiful towns many times in the past. But to revisit these places this time with many people who have never been there is something else. I never dreamed of speaking in front of a group, most of all tagging along many people to a place unfamiliar to them. Actually, I can do some public speaking so long as I have a prepared speech, or maybe if I were tipsy (as I always say, I’m a writer, not a talker). So what happened last Sunday was a revelation. Many thanks to Arnaldo’s insistence and encouragement.

One more thing: all of us made new friends. At the start of the tour, not everyone in the group knew each other. A little later, we were all laughing at León’s nostalgic “Labs Ko Si Babe” story about Pila! So this is another bonus when you join our tour — you will gain new friends!

Click here to view all the photos of our educational/familiarization tour of my beloved adoptive province!

Even this church’s side entrance is not spared from artistry! It could even rival the façade of other churches!

Arnaldo and I will be announcing more updates about our “La Laguna Lakeshore Tour” in the coming days to those who are interested to explore our beautiful province by the lake. Also, a “La Laguna Mountain Tour” is in the works. We also have in mind a food tour of the province as well as a heritage tour in other provinces. Therefore, and whether we like it or not, we will be needing a new blog for this venture. And if this project works out and becomes profitable, we will be setting up a Filhispanic foundation catering to Filipino studies and even flamenco dances (as envisioned by Señor Gómez). Later on, we’ll conceptualize a Filipino-themed restaurant. Then we’ll buy more land and property and build Filipino-style condominiums and villas, setup beach resorts, buy more land and property, and eventually, establish a huge mall. We’ll probably call it La Solidaridad Mall or something to that effect.

But first thing’s first. This La Laguna Lakeshore Tour should work out fine. Qué Dios nos bendiga.

Stay tuned for further announcements. You may follow me and/or Arnaldo on Twitter as we discuss the progress of this tourism project. You can even join us in the discussion and provide us some inputs that might be of valuable help to us. ¡Hasta entonces!

TOF Home

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Art connoisseur Glenn Martínez calls his comfy San Mateo abode as “TOF Home”. TOF of course are the initials of his well-known travel blog Traveler On Foot. Having been blogging about his travels all over the country with his son Joaquín since 2008, he can be considered as one of the pioneer travel bloggers in the country. But his online travel journal is different from the rest of the pack. For one, he endears his readers to have a patriotic attachment towards the places that he visits by revealing, and putting emphasis on, their historical and cultural side. Simply put, he is a Filipino travel blogger. Secondly, he refuses to “commercialize” his blog (despite its popularity, he has never bought his own domain name yet), making his advocacy more admirable.

Me and fellow blogger Arnaldo Arnáiz first met Glenn in 2008 during an Ambeth Ocampo lecture in Macati (or just a few months after he started TOF). The three of us have been communicating ever since. A couple of years ago, tragedy struck his first home in San Mateo when Typhoon Ondoy inundated it, destroying not just his belongings but his precious collection of Filipiniana, many of which were already out of print!

I would have died if it happened to me.

But Glenn rose back like a phoenix. Just last month, he invited me and Arnaldo to have lunch at his new home. We were astounded by what we saw — his new home has become a virtual art gallery!

Works of internationally acclaimed Paeteño painter Dominic Rubio.

A collection of miniature baskets on top of an antique marble-topped mesita (foreground), accumulated from various towns which Glenn and his son Joaquín had visited

More paintings and miniature wood sculptures will greet visitors by the stairs going to the third floor.

A sketch by Celso Pepito.

Father and son.

A collection of Ambeth Ocampo‘s highly informative books.

More Filipiniana volumes adorn this antique estante.

Glenn has transferred to a then bland-looking three-story house —this time farther from the Mariquina River— which he has since styled into an artist’s haven. He has decorated the interiors, from first floor to third, with various art pieces by renowned painters and sculptors he had met during his travels, purchased miniature items, handicrafts, and other interesting trinkets from various indigenous cultures he had visited, and salvaged parts of old ancestral houses and churches which were otherwise considered as junk. His taste in Filipino art was surprisingly something new, an enthusiasm developed by his travels and the friendships he had made with many artists through the years. He has become so immersed in the local art scene that he could even lecture me about the inanities of differentiating “low art” and “high art”, whatever that means (now you understand the “art connoisseur” tag at the beginning of this blogpost).

Glenn’s bedroom, at left, is on the second floor. At right bottom is part of the stairway which leads to the third floor where most of his art collection and books are located.

Joaquín’s bedroom, also at the second floor, has four framed graffiti by Rai Cruz.

Antique dining table (foreground) and sala furniture pieces at the background. A calado from an old ancestral house in Pila, La Laguna hangs above.

Potteries and baskets from various parts of the country displayed safely inside this nostalgic armario.

“You have to live by what you write” is what Glenn told us during that afternoon visit, hence helping us understand why his home, a modern-looking house from the outside, looks and feels so nostalgic, so homely, so familiar, so Filipino. The place is complemented by Glenn’s effusively positive outlook towards life. I remember how he gave me some old-fashioned encouragement during one time when I was having another fit of depression. And with genuine concern, he even gave me advice on how my family should travel. And then there’s his smart boy Joaquín, a very fortunate chap who is being showered not only with paternal love but also with the lovely culture that has shaped our national identity. Joaquín is even keen on learning Spanish, the language of our forefathers! TOF Home also has its doors open to all of Glenn’s artist friends because he wants to consider them as a “family extension” of sorts for his son Joaquín, one of the country’s youngest travelers.

Visiting TOF Home inspired me to do some major makeover on my own home. I’ve been dreaming of owning my own bahay na bató for my family, but I have to accept the reality that it might never happen anymore. But having experienced Glenn’s house made me realize that it is still possible to Filipinize one’s home even if it is not an ancestral house.

That evening, the four of us attended Mass at the nearby parish of Our Lady of Aranzazu.

Enfrente de la Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Aranzazu, San Mateo, Provincia de Morong. Izquierda a derecha: Glenn Martínez, Arnaldo Arnáiz, y yo. Al frente es Joaquín, único hijo de Glenn.

And here’s our podcast (“episode 2”) with Glenn Martínez, the one and only Traveler On Foot, last September 7 at his Filipino home in San Mateo, Morong.

Pardon us for the sound quality; birth pains of rookies, y’know. The podcast with Glenn took more than an hour, but Arnaldo had to cut it to around 30 minutes because much of our conversation was garbled. Fortunately, Arnaldo recently purchased some new equipment. That’s why for “episode 3” of our podcast with Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera (I’ll blog about it very soon), the sound quality finally came out A-OK. We’ll do much better next time.

For more photos of TOF Home, click here. You may also want to buy this month’s issue of Real Living magazine wherein the said publication features Glenn’s rustically modern home.

¡Hasta luego!

The story behind the assassination of Fernando Manuel Bustamante

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Earlier today, in Palacio de Malacañán‘s official Facebook page, the below post was published:

#todayinhistory — On August 9, 1717, Fernando Bustamante y Rueda assumed his post as the Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines. He stirred trouble with the religious orders and also with the archbishop, which lead to his assassination by mob.

I just find it irritatingly odd that instead of commemorating the reforms and projects of the Bustamante administration since today is the anniversary of his installation as Gobernador-General de las Islas Filipinas, Malacañán’s Facebook handlers found time to instead harp on the governor-general’s assassination. Shouldn’t they have, instead, posted the above info on the anniversary of his death which falls every 11th of October (1719)? Because it’s more timely that way. And is the assassination the only thing our historians remember about Bustamante? Furthermore, how much do we even know about his character?

The said Facebook post has garnered several shares already, not to mention eliciting another round of those now classic “frailocracy at its finest” and “Padre Dámaso” comments. Open-minded people will then start to wonder if the said post was meant to make people not really to remember but to  “keep on hating”. And when you ask these anti-Catholic bashers (deplorably, many of them are Catholics themselves) what’s the real score behind the assassination, they will not be able to provide a decent answer.

So what’s the real story behind this infamous scene in our history? Let us now hear it from historian extraordinaire, Nick Joaquín:

What’s often cited against the 18th century are grisly happenings like the killing of Governor Fernando Manuel Bustamante — happenings that seem to indicate a priest-ridden society still groping about in the Dark Ages.

Bustamante was a reform governor (1717-1719) with good intentions but a violent temper. He used the militia to terrorize the public. He filled the jails to overflowing but his prisoners were not all government crooks he had caught; some were people who merely disagreed with him. When he jailed the archbishop of Manila, it provoked a demo.

Angry mobs marched to the palace waving banners and crucifixes and yelling: ‘Church, religion, and king!’ They were met on the palace stairway by Bustamante, who wielded a gun in one hand, a sword in the other. ‘Death to the tyrant!’ shouted his visitors, rushing up the stairs. The governor plunged his sword into the first body to approach him and then could not pull out the sword fast enough to drive back those who were surrounding him. He was cut down with dagger and spear. A son of his who came to his rescue was likewise stabbed to death.

The mob then stored Fort Santiago and released the imprisoned archbishop. The prelate would assume the governorship, as interim head of state. He decreed a pension of a thousand pesos for the family of Bustamante but the widow rejected it.

Me, Juanito, and Krystal at the foot of the massive EL ASESINATO DEL GOBERNADOR BUSTAMANTE Y SU HIJO, an oil on canvas completed in 1853 by Félix Resurrección Hidalgo y Padilla, at the National Museum (photo taken on 10/30/2012 by my wife).

Out-of-school Nick had poured over first source materials and had made researches in various libraries and archives. He had spent so much of his time in such places more than any schooled historian that I know of. And since Spanish was his language, it was easy for him to decipher the “encrypted stories” about our country’s oft-misunderstood past. That is why the PhDs and the MAs of the world fear and respect him. And that is why I trust him more about the Bustamante story more than anyone else’s version of it, most of which are twisted anyway.

To continue, the cause of Bustamante’s assassination was not exactly done out of religious sentiments. In a time when there were still no senators nor congressmen, when the political climate was still different, it was actually the Church who served as the “opposition” against a form of governmental setup that had all the potentials of turning into a dictatorship. Although violent and bloody, the demo against Bustamante was our country’s first dealings with democracy.

The happening is ugly but what caused it can be equated with the system of checks and balances, a beautiful feature of democracy. Because of the distance of Manila from Madrid, the Spanish kings were persuaded to grant their Philippine royal governors almost absolute powers. In effect, the executive was also the legislative and the judiciary. He headed army and navy. And he was answerable only to the king.

Against this potentate, the only checks and balances were provided by the Church, principally the friars, who served as the opposition. The opposition was sometimes “holy”, as in the friars’ campaign against the abuses of the encomenderos, and sometimes “unholy”, as in this killing of Bustamante — though we should remember that, before the fatal demo, the governor had called out and sicked his vigilantes in public.

So much slur has been thrown at those hated Spanish friars. Bashers don’t even think that if such events did not happen, who would have stopped potentially abusive government leaders? To wit: it was the opposition (friars) who acted against the majority (encomenderos) on the continued implementation of the corrupted encomienda system. And how come I don’t see anyone praising the friars for this? Why the double standard?

Anyway, good ‘ol Nick concluded Bustamante’s assassination story with this…

…the point here is not interference between Church and State, but the natural feud between government and opposition. It’s like the clash between King Henry II of England and Archbishop Becket, with the difference that in the Philippine case it was the King Henry who got slain.

Just a piece of advice: read widely and think critically to avoid bashing benightedly.

List of historic sites and structures installed with historical markers.

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Did you know? The website of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines has a complete list of  the country’s historic sites and structures that are installed with historical markers. The list was last updated on January 16 last year. CLICK HERE to view the list so that the next time you plan your next out-of-town trip, you might as well have a print out of the said list to see if your itinerary may have any historic site or structure. Para may pang historic selfie selfie din cayó pag may time, ¿di ba?

The baroque Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Gracia, popularly known as Guadalupe Church because it is located in Barrio Guadalupe Viejo in Macati City.

Also, the website has a list of institutions with markers and another list for declared historic sites and structures by region. Check ’em out!

The Seven Lakes of San Pablo City, La Laguna

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San Pablo City is famously known as “The City of Seven Lakes”. And for good reason. Because it really has seven lakes, though not as large as nearby Laguna de Bay. And definitely NOT artificial like the one in Nuvali (in Santa Rosa City). These seven lakes are not ordinary water formations since they have a subterranean background with a “volcanic touch”.

Scientifically, the seven lakes of San Pablo are classified as “maars” or low-relief volcanic craters. Maars were formed by what volcanologists call a phreatomagmatic eruption (heck knows how it’s pronounced; I might be able to do it with a mouthful of polvorón). Such eruptions are rare; they occur only when groundwater comes into contact with magma.

The lakes have queer native names, some of which are familiar to Tagalog speakers. Nobody knows who gave them their names. But as is the usual case in our culture, legends have been passed on from generation to generation. And since hundreds of years ago, nobody knew the difference between a phreatomagmatic eruption from a scorned lady, people really had to come up with stories about their origins.

Here are the brief profiles of each lake as well as their legends.

1) Lake Bunót (30.50 hectares; 23 meters average depth)

Lago Bunót


Bunót was named after —you got it— that whatnot cleaning item that you use to make the floor as shiny and sparkling as your high school classmate’s oily face. Its origin comes from the never-ending Spanish-indio– miscommunication story. Spanish soldiers who were new to the place inquired the name of the lake from a man who was husking coconuts by the lakeshore. Thinking that the soldiers were asking for the native name of the coconut husk, the man, probably Raymart Santiago’s ancestor, innocently replied bunót.

2) Lake Calibató (42 hectares, 135 meters average depth)

Lago Calibató


Calibató was said to be the turf of a nature spirit locally known as a diwatà. The place was once a rich valley filled with wild game and fruit-bearing trees. But she was angered when natives constructed rocky pathways which criss-crossed her haven. She must have turned green and big like the Incredible Hulk because she caused an earthquake. Afterwards, she must have transformed into Ororo Munro of the X-Men to cause a severe storm that transformed the valley into what it is today: a lake, but which provides abundant fish (probably those who constructed the pathway, just a crazy guess). It is believed that the name Calibató was a combination of “Cali”, a corruption of the Spanish word “calle” or street, and “bató”, Tagalog for “rock” (sorry, no crystal meth jokes allowed).

3) Lake Mojicap (14.50 hectares; 80 meters average depth)

Lago Mojicap


The story of Mojicap (spelled nowadays as Mohicap) is about a religious couple who had a very sickly daughter named Mónica. They made a promise to do anything if God heals her. God granted their prayer on condition that the child should only stay inside their elevated hut and must never set foot on mother earth. One day, while Mónica was sewing her dress, the ball of thread that she was using fell on the bamboo slat floor and slid towards the earthen ground. Her parents were out on a date so they were not around to retrieve it. The poor child had to recover the ball of thread by herself. Reminiscent of nighttime TV soaps, it was apparent that the parents were too secretive towards their daughter regarding their pre-natal deal with God, because the girl didn’t wait for her parents to retrieve the ball of thread. So upon stepping on the ground for the first time in her life, she immediately collapsed, then water spewed forth from the earth, drowning her and the entire neighborhood. Voila, a new lake emerged. For some reason, the name Mónica eventually became Mojicap (this means that actress Danica Sotto has a fair chance of having her name changed to Dajicap Sotto pretty soon). Mojicap, by the way, is my wife’s favorite lake among the rest. She finds its turquoise-colored waters fascinating.

4) Lake Palacpaquin (43 hectares; 7.50 meters average depth)

Lago Palacpaquin


Nope, Palacpaquin has no “let’s-give-them-a-round-of-applause” (or “magpalacpacan tayo“) myth. Elders instead will tell you that it was once a river where a mysterious lady (probably a diwatà again) used to wash her long hair every full moon by the hollow trunk of an ancient tree called palacpaquin. A big fish also appears in the river every time the lady washes her hair. Hmmm… May crush yatà. Anyways, nobody dared to catch the fish, fearing that it was owned by the lady. And maybe because it was too big to be caught, if I may add. One day, a stranger suddenly thought that he’s Sherlock Holmes, so he started to investigate the mysterious lady and her queer fish pal. One moonlit night, he saw the mysterious damsel. As he approached her, thunder and lightning shook the earth, causing the river to swell. No, Thor wasn’t there (he’d rather visit a First World country). It’s just that no mortal man was allowed to go near the damsel. So in a matter of minutes, the river had become a lake. There was no more sign of the stranger, the lady, and the fish. But in their place was a large quantity of shrimp from which the popular cuisine Hipong Palacpaquin originated.

5) Lake Pandín (20.50 hectares; 63 meters average depth)

Lago Pandín


Now this lake is paradise! My personal favorite, and the most popular among travelers. And this lake has a twin: Yambó, which can be reached on the other side via raft. Or if you think you can be the next Michael Phelps, go ahead and do a butterfly stroke towards the other bank. Anyway, both Pandín and Yambó are separated by a narrow strip of elevated hill. The story of these is almost similar to that of Mojicap’s. It tells of a story of a barren couple who kept on praying for a child. One day, a diwatà (I wonder if she’s the same femme fatale from the Calibató and Palacpaquin tales) appeared to them and told them that they will be granted a daughter only if they promised not to allow her to set foot on the earth, to which the couple agreed. They named the girl Pandín who grew up to become the hottest chick in town. One day, a suitor of hers, Yambó by the name, invited her to come down from her hut while she was sewing. But Pandín, faithful to her parents’ instructions, objected. Without saying a word, Yambó immediately climbed up the hut, grabbed Pandín’s ball of thread, then threw it outside. In anger, the girl totally forgot her parents’ instructions. She angrily went down the hut to fetch her ball of thread, and to probably give Yambó a beating a la Claudine Barretto. The next thing that happened? I bet you already know — two gigantic waterfalls appeared! Joke.

6) Lake Sampáloc (104 hectares; 10 meters average depth)

Lago Sampáloc


Sampáloc, the largest of San Pablo’s seven lakes, took its name from a tamarind tree popularly known in Tagalog as champuy. Oh, I’m so nuts today. It’s sampáloc, actually. As I was about to say… a long time ago, a sampáloc tree grew in the garden of a stingy old hag who drove away a hungry old man asking for some fruit as a cure for his ailing grandson. Instead of helping him, the stingy old woman had him driven away by her ferocious dogs. Little did she know that the old man was actually a diwata in disguise (probably the first case of folkloric closet queenliness). As punishment for her selfishness, her garden and its surroundings sank into a colossal pit which was eventually filled with water. The new lake was called Sampáloc after the old tree. And thank goodness it is not called Champuy Lake.

On a side note, Sampáloc was the original name of San Pablo before the Super Spaniards came.

7) Lake Yambó (28.50 hectares; depth unclassified)

Lago Yambó


My arthritic hands are stiff and tired. But thanks to item# 5 (Lake Pandín), there’s no need to retell the Yambó story. So I am going to finish my breakfast now.

In closing, do I really have to describe in detail the prettiness of each lake? Sans the occasional eyesore (informal settlers, a couple of plastic water bottles here and there, pesky fish pens that are already stressing out Lake Bunót, etc.), even that would have been an injustice. All I can say is simply this: visiting all these lakes and reminiscing the scenes in your mind will surely make you hilariously happy that you would go nuts writing, or on whatever it is that you are doing. 🙂

*******

NOTE: All photos, except for Lake Calibató, were taken last 16 April 2012. The photo for Lake Calibató was taken the next day.

The Black Nazarene of Quiapò (Facebook photos)

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Exactly a week has passed but I haven’t blogged about the Black Nazarene procession of Quiapò which I have attended. I have been very busy attending to some personal matters: taking care of my pet grasshoppers; searching for fireflies in the dead of the night, etc. Actually, I did blog about this historic event (reportedly one of the longest processions ever at 22 hours despite terrorist-threat warnings from Malacañang!) in my other blog, with videos to boot. But it’s in Spanish. So I will blog about the event here in FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES very soon. Hopefully before the month ends.

In the meantime, I have published my photos of the Fiesta de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno in my Facebook page. You can view the photos (with captions) by clicking here.

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